Preferred Citation: Musser, Charles. Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.


Before the Nickelodeon

Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company

Charles Musser

Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford
© 1991 The Regents of the University of California

For Eileen Bowser 
In Memory of Jay Leyda

Preferred Citation: Musser, Charles. Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.

For Eileen Bowser 
In Memory of Jay Leyda



By its example, Charles Musser's elegantly argued study of Edwin S. Porter conveys two of the primary goals that the UCLA Film and Television Archive seeks to achieve in sponsoring scholarly publication.

In part we hope to underline the creative role played by film archives in making historical research possible and, often, in helping to set the field's scholarly agenda. The study of early cinema is reliant on the accessibility of films rescued and preserved by institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress, the International Museum of Photography, and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. The current worldwide revival of scholarly concern with early film can be traced back to the legendary symposium sponsored by the International Federation of Film Archives in Brighton, England, in 1978.

Our second goal in promoting scholarly publication is to celebrate and promote the renaissance of historical writing currently taking place in the field of film and television studies. After a long period of marginalization to the outer fringes of the discipline, serious historical research is now being rediscovered, redefined, and legitimated by a new generation of young scholars like Charles Musser.

In his writing Musser combines the traditionalist historian's respect for scholarly erudition with the contemporary historian's insistence on methodological self-consciousness, multidisciplinary discourse, and intellectual risktaking. Relying almost entirely on primary archival source materials to construct his arguments, Musser rejects timeworn and reductive explanations of historical causality such as auteurism and technological determinism. His dialectical approach to historical narrative freely crosses disciplinary boundaries to convey the complex interplay of aesthetics with a multifaceted social and industrial context.


In theory, the vast holdings of film and documents available through the nation's archives suggest the possibility of doing historical research that is truly definitive—the "last word" in the field. In practice, the current generation of intellectually expansive scholars are much too aware of the complexity of history to believe that interpretive closure is possible. In his commitment to both exhaustive archival research and audacious interpretation, Charles Musser exemplifies the creative potential in this contradiction.




An undertaking such as this can be accomplished only with the assistance of many people. I owe a particular debt to Jay Leyda, who taught my first film course. His advice and example over the intervening seventeen years have been a constant inspiration. My deepest regret is that he is not here to read this book, to which he contributed so generously. Eileen Bowser has sponsored the work of many students of early cinema. Her generosity and understanding have helped to make this project possible. In the process, she has become not only a friend and colleague but a quiet muse. To them, this book is dedicated.

This project began in the fall of 1976 in the context of an independent study with Jay Leyda. Unhappy with the frequently expressed assumption that cinema began with D. W. Griffith, Ismail Xavier and I went to the Library of Congress and looked at a group of early films from the Paper Print Collection. George Pratt taught me how to mine newspapers for information and then made his own research on Porter available to me. Pratt's rigorous, carefully documented articles on early cinema, as well as his thoughtful comments and continued enthusiasm, provided me with models of scholarly diligence. From Tony Keefer of the Connellsville Historical Society, I learned much about researching local history even as he kindly shared information about Porter's early life with me.

Robert Rosen of the UCLA Film and Television Archive and Angelo Humouda of the Cineteca D. W. Griffith in Genoa encouraged me to think of this study as a book from its early stages. The UCLA archive offered crucial assistance to this project at several junctures, and I am most pleased that it appears under its auspices. My own researches were supplemented by discussions and the sharing of information with associates interested in early cinema—


particularly with Noël Burch, Tom Gunning, André Gaudreault, David Levy, Paul Spehr, Pat Loughney, and Jon Gartenberg. Robert Sklar played an important role, providing thoughtful criticism and encouragement as I struggled to give this manuscript coherence and a form others would find useful. William K. Everson, William Simon, John Fell, Kristin Thompson, and Peter Dreyer provided me with thoughtful readings.

Portions of this manuscript have been previously published as articles. I am very grateful to the editors of Cinema Journal, Film and History, Framework , and Iris for the opportunity to reach audiences with some of these ideas before this study was completed.[1] Such opportunities to participate in the wide-ranging discussions revolving around early motion pictures and the practice of film historiography enabled me to refine my arguments and significantly improve the final manuscript. I am particularly grateful to the Society of Cinema Studies, which awarded the 1978 Student Award for Scholarly Writing to "The Early Cinema of Edwin Porter," the basis for chapter 6. This recognition facilitated the funding of Before the Nickelodeon , a film devoted to Porter's Edison career, and encouraged me to keep working on a project that has taken over ten years to complete.

Many people at various institutions went out of their way to assist this project. Pat Sheehan, Emily Sieger, Barbara Humphries, and Kathy Loughney at the Library of Congress; Mary Bowling, Ed Pershey, Reed Able, and Lea Burt at the Edison National Historic Site; John Kuiper and Chris Horak at the George Eastman House; Charles Silver, Ron Magliozzi, Jytte Jensen, and Mary Lea Bandy at the Museum of Modern Art; and David Francis, Roger Holman, and Elaine Burrows at the British Film Institute were all helpful on many separate occasions. Paula Jescavge at New York University's Bobst Library patiently filled many interlibrary loan requests. I am particularly indebted to the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University, where an earlier draft of this manuscript served as a dissertation.

Many other people deserve my thanks. Among them: Warren D. Leight, Rick King, Alexis Krasilovsky, Stephen Brier, John E. Allen, Reese V. Jenkins, Janet Staiger, John Fell, David Bordwell, Judith Mayne, Susan Kempler, John O'Connor, Martin Sopocy, Sam McElfresh, Standish Lawder, Miriam Hansen, Steven Higgins, Kemp Niver, Bebe Bergsten, Jack Miles, Joan Richardson, Anne Richardson, Don Ranvaud, Bob Summers, Porter Reilly, Charles Harpole, Herbert Reynolds, Roberta Pearson, Louise Spence, Richard and Diane Koszarski, Paul Killiam, Noël Carroll, Carol Nelson, Marilyn Schwartz, Pamela MacFarland, Blanche Sweet, and my family and friends. To Lynne Zeavin I and this book owe more than can readily be expressed. Finally, Ernest Callenbach, my patient and supportive editor, deserves particular thanks.



The first fifteen years of commercial motion pictures were extraordinary: film practices and the films not only differed fundamentally from today's counterparts but also underwent an unparalleled series of changes. During this formative period, Edwin S. Porter emerged as America's foremost filmmaker. Although many books have been written on D. W. Griffith, John Ford, and Orson Welles, not one has been published on the creator of The Great Train Robbery . This study is both a biography of the filmmaker Edwin S. Porter and an industrial history of the Edison Manufacturing Company from the beginning of commercial motion pictures through 1909—roughly until the formation of the Motion Picture Patents Company. This double focus is appropriate, for Porter and the Edison Company were associated in one form or another from the spring of 1896, when Porter entered the motion picture industry with a group that owned rights to "Edison's Vitascope," until 1909, when he left Edison's employ. In the interim, he worked for the Edison-licensed Eden Musee and then joined the Edison Manufacturing Company in late 1900. Within a few months he was a key member of the production team operating out of Edison's new motion picture studio. Within another two and a half years, he had become "head of negative production," a position he retained for the next six years.

This dual focus proves efficacious in other respects. This undertaking does not dispute long-held assertions that Porter was the principal American filmmaker of the pre-Griffith era, even though I seek to cast that valorization in a new light. Correspondingly, Thomas Edison and his company were at the center of the industry's activities. In this regard, the commercial practices of the Edison Company were inextricably linked with Porter's creative role as film producer.


Each must be seen in light of the other. Porter's departure from Edison, moreover, was not arbitrary but occurred as his methods of film production and representation fell into disrepute and ascendant practices won the strong support of the Edison Company's new chief executive, Frank Dyer. This then is also a study of what has frequently been called "early cinema"—a loosely used term best applied to certain cinematic practices that became antiquated around 1907-8. If—as John Fell suggests—early cinema is pre-Griffith, then this study examines the pre-Griffith modes of representation and production in light of Porter/Edison activities.[1]

Edison's contributions to motion picture history, particularly during the stages of invention and initial commercialization, have been extensively examined by two important figures in film historiography: Terry Ramsaye and Gordon Hendricks.[2] Their assessments are diametrically opposed. Ramsaye's A Million and One Nights (1926) is a highly sympathetic account, read by Edison in manuscript and published with his endorsement. Ramsaye's widely read narrative supported—probably knowingly—the inventor's efforts to pre-date his motion picture inventions. These falsehoods were exposed in Hendricks's The Edison Motion Picture Myth (1961), which argued that America's greatest inventor was a sometimes grasping and unethical businessman. Angered by this realization, Hendricks developed a highly critical stance toward his subject. While staying close to "the facts," the historian interpreted them so unsympathetically that many of his conclusions must be questioned. Although this present text often relies on Hendricks's and Ramsaye's contributions to film historiography, it seeks to treat Edison and his company's activities in another light, from a perspective that might be called "critical sympathy."

In grappling with Porter's contributions to cinema, most histories have concentrated on two of his productions—Life of an American Fireman and The Great Train Robbery —offering interpretations of these cinematic milestones rather than an understanding of the road they marked. Limited to a few films, their analyses fail to present a coherent interpretation of Porter's work. Perhaps this was inevitable, since these commentators wrote about Porter within the framework of a larger panorama covering many decades and thousands of extant films. The nature of their enterprise necessarily precluded the time, research, and thinking needed to offer a balanced overview of Porter's work. Moreover, their theoretical framework proved suspect. Writing at a time when it was necessary to emphasize that film was an art, Terry Ramsaye, Lewis Jacobs, and their successors conceived of Porter in romantic terms, as a "primitive artist" whose intuitive insights revolutionized the cinema. "Genius" became a methodological category that obfuscated the need for more critical insight.[3] Even recent overviews often continue to paraphrase Ramsaye's and Jacobs' assessments of Porter ("father of the story film" and "the inventor of editing") until they have become hopeless clichés.[4]

Although Porter has received his share of accolades, he also has his critics.


American historians have often viewed him as a lonely pioneer whose struggles to discover the new medium's untold possibilities were not entirely successful. Not only did they fail to acknowledge the vibrancy and diversity of American early film, but they generally failed to assess Porter's contributions within the context of world cinema, projecting America's post-World War I dominance backwards onto the pre-1912 era, when the French—first Lumière, then Méliès, and finally Pathé—often played more prominent roles. The more international, if still somewhat Eurocentric, outlooks of French historians such as Georges Sadoul have found Porter's place to be much more modest. Comparing Life of an American Fireman and one or two other Porter films to the better researched French and English cinemas and ignoring the dynamic of the American's development, Sadoul accuses Porter of imitating James Williamson's Fire! with Life of an American Fireman and Frank Mottershaw's Robbery of a Mail Coach with The Great Train Robbery . In so doing, Sadoul passes over the rich contexts of American cinema and popular culture, presenting a narrow, mechanistic analysis of Porter's development.[5] In truth, the observations of Jacques Deslandes and Jacques Richard are the most acute. They refrain from comparative judgments, admitting that one "must recognize one's own ignorance in the area and wait for serious research to be undertaken before one can make statements about the exploitation of the cinema [in America] between 1896 and 1906."[6]

As the field of cinema studies expanded in the early 1970s, superficial overviews of the pre-Griffith period became less and less acceptable. Making a tentative effort to put American early cinema in a larger context, Robert Sklar notes the need for a full-scale study of Edwin S. Porter, an absence this book seeks to fill.[7] More recently, a new generation of scholars has emerged that is interested in early cinema not because it was simply the precursor of classical cinema but because it was a practice with its own logic and integrity. Many of these scholars were working in isolation until the 1978 FIAF (Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film) Conference in Brighton, England, brought them together. There we met, exchanged papers, and saw hundred of films from the 1900-1906 era. Several of the papers dealt with Porter's work.[8]

Since the Brighton conference, an array of articles on early cinema have been written by participants and other historians. Many of these have been excellent, almost all have been provocative and useful.[9] Fewer books, however, have appeared to reflect this new level of interest. Several notable exceptions, Michael Chanan's The Dream That Kicks and a series by John Barnes, concentrate almost exclusively on the British cinema.[10] Others have added to the extensive literature already available on Georges Méliès.[11] No full-length study of American cinema prior to 1908 has been published as this goes to press.[12] Yet it is increasingly clear that a series of articles cannot replace sustained, book-length examinations of the period.

This present effort seeks to synthesize research derived from written primary source materials and viewings of films.[13] Writings of the period have been ex-


tensively consulted. Trade journals provided indispensable information even as they required painstaking efforts, for the motion picture industry had no specialized publication until 1906. Daily newspapers are another essential resource, one that would need many lifetimes to exhaust. Early motion picture catalogs contribute invaluable assistance, but are scattered across the United States. Collecting catalogs for this study thus led to an important subsidiary publishing project, the six-reel Motion Picture Catalogs by American Producers and Distributors, 1894-1908: A Microfilm Edition .[14] Manuscript collections are another key resource. The number of court cases involving motion pictures during this period was staggering. While these suits affected the industry's development, they also document specific cinematic practices. Porter testified often and was routinely asked to establish his professional credentials. Records, correspondence, and other materials at the Edison National Historic Site made possible a systematic study of the Edison Manufacturing Company and the work of its studio manager. There are gaps, however, and one of the most unfortunate was created by a fire that destroyed Porter's personal archive at the Famous Players studio on September 11, 1915.[15]

To balance this substantial reservoir of written materials, there are a large number of extant films. Perhaps 65 percent of the Edison subjects made before February 1908 can still be seen. Only scattered productions from 1894 to June 1897 survive, but the Paper Print Collection at the Library of Congress includes a large number of Edison films made between June 1897 and mid 1905. These films, deposited for copyright purposes as reels of paper photographs, have been restored and rephotographed back onto film by Kemp Niver.[16] The Kleine Collection, also at the Library of Congress, is a much smaller, but still significant, gathering of early, often uncopyrighted Edison films. In an unusually complementary relationship, the Museum of Modern Art has most of the Edison negatives from the period between late 1905 and February 1908. In the early stages of this project I had the opportunity to restore some Porter films, which the museum had already preserved, to their original order. When these were incomplete, surviving frame enlargements were filmed and inserted in their correct places, accompanied by titles taken from catalog descriptions. Very few Edison films made between February 1908 and Porter's departure in November 1909 are extant. There is reason to believe that the negatives for these films were shipped to Gaumont in Paris, where European release prints were made.[17] Perhaps they will one day be rediscovered. For the moment, the films made during this period—coinciding with Porter's loss of status both at Edison and in the industry as a whole—are lost.

This book is focused around three topics: (1) production and representational practices, (2) subject matter and ideology, and (3) commercial methods.


Modes of Production and Representation

My research began as I grappled with the assumptions of an earlier generation of film historians: since the "pioneers" discovered the inherent possibilities of film editing, the issue as these historians saw it was, who discovered which techniques, and when did given techniques first appear? It is evident that this basic perception remains entrenched to this day, albeit without so much of an individualistic slant. Yet this approach fails to recognize that early cinema's production methods were. radically different from our own. As shown in chapter 5, editing was a routine procedure during the late 1890s. It was primarily performed, however, by the exhibitor, who structured groups of short, one-shot films into sometimes quite complex sequences. Of course, editing was not as elaborate a procedure as it would become in later years, but its essential elements were clearly in place.[18] The history of early cinema must therefore consider the manner in which producers assumed control over the editorial function and the impact that this had on all areas of film practice, particularly the system of representation.

This history's first line of attention thus examines the dialectical interaction between cinema's methods of production and its mode of representation. Some of this seems obvious. When Edison developed a portable camera, new kinds of subject matter became possible. Conversely, the desire to undertake these new kinds of subjects encouraged the development of such a camera. Once the camera was in use, however, it allowed for the taking of images that could be sequenced into multishot stories. While the distinction between production and representation parallels Marxist distinctions between base and superstructure, changes in the superstructure clearly do not simply reflect those in the base.[19] Cinema's production practices have an impact on its representational system and vice versa.

In the largest sense, cinema production involves three essential processes or groups: film production, exhibition, and reception (the production companies, the showmen, and the spectators).[20] While the films are a direct result of the mode of film production, they only have an impact within a changing framework involving the other two operations. The mode of exhibition comprises the showman's methods of presentation and his relation to the production company's films. The mode of reception or appreciation embraces the spectators' relationship to the exhibition and the ways in which they understand and enjoy the films as they are shown. All three processes experienced profound change and reorganization during the 1895-1909 period. The tendency among historians to equate film production to the whole of cinema has severely limited our understanding of motion pictures during the pre-Griffith era.

During its first fifteen years, the cinema's production methods experienced a series of rapid transformations. Insight into this process is facilitated by Harry Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in Twen-


tieth Century America . Its look at changing modes of production outside the cultural sphere can readily be applied to film practice. According to Braverman, the centralization of work processes under one management is the fundamental step for subsequent transformations of production in advanced capitalism. As he remarks, "Control without centralization of employment was, if not impossible, certainly very difficult, and so the precondition for management was the gathering of workers under a single roof."[21] In the case of early film practice, control over creative decisions was scattered among different groups. Editorial decisions, as already mentioned, were initially the exhibitor's responsibility. Obviously it was not usually possible to bring producers, exhibitors, and spectators under one roof (although this occurred to some extent at the Eden Musee, where Porter worked in the late 1890s). Yet it was not only possible but highly desirable to bring certain practices under the control of a single management. Much of this volume examines the manner in which responsibility for many creative processes was more or less concentrated within the production company. This process of centralization, however, was not fully completed until the introduction of sound films.

As control over essential practices was centralized, the opportunity arose for a division of labor within the production companies. Here again Braverman provides a useful discussion of the economic logic of "the manufacturing division of labor" under capitalism. He is concerned not only with "the breakdown of the processes involved in the making of the product into manifold operations performed by different workers" but with the resulting degradation of work.[22] This division of labor was eventually manifested in the motion picture industry by what has become known as the studio system. Janet Staiger has ably explored this process of the division of labor within a similar theoretical framework, also informed by the work of Braverman.[23] While centralization of creative control was crucial to the formation of the studio system, other factors were simultaneously at play. The rapid expansion of the industry resulted in larger scales of production and created opportunities for dividing labor that capitalism was eager to exploit. The almost constant introduction of new technologies, as well as changes in the larger socioeconomic system, also altered production methods and influenced the reorganization of the workplace.

Porter's role in the process of centralization and specialization was complex and, as Noël Burch has noted, characterized by ambivalence.[24] While helping to concentrate crucial aspects of filmmaking within the production company, Porter opposed most aspects of the manufacturing division of labor. His resistance, in certain respects, is not unlike the worker resistance examined by David Montgomery in Workers' Control in America .[25] Although many in the industry—most notably the projectionists—reacted angrily to the rapid degradation of their work life, this volume focuses on the resistance of Edison studio personnel, particularly Porter, to specialization and hierarchy.

From today's perspective, Porter was an extraordinary individual who mas-


tered all phases of film practice. He not only shot a range of news subjects and actualities but produced a variety of successful dramas and comedies. Moreover, he not only directed them, but worked on the scenarios, acted as cameraman, and edited the film—he even developed his own negatives. He designed and built studios, then outfitted them for operation. He devised projectors, perforators, and cameras. He remodeled Edison's projecting kinetoscope, turning it into a first-rate projector, and went on to build prototypes for the Simplex projector, which became the industry standard during the 1920s and is still considered by some to be the best machine of its kind ever made.[26] Yet Porter was not—as one might say of D. W. Griffith, Erich yon Stroheim, or Charles Chaplin—a one-man show. Throughout his career and in many different areas, he worked collaboratively and in a nonhierarchical fashion. In short, his whole method of work was incompatible with the studio system.

Initially, the radically different formal structures of pre-1907 films attracted me and other scholars to this era of motion picture practice. The problem of cinematic representation, in recent years one of the focal points of film studies, assumed wider significance in the light of these viewings.[27] Here again, Porter clearly played a central role. He was one of several filmmakers who elaborated the mode of representation that flourished in the early 1900s, only to disintegrate as cinema became a form of mass entertainment. The dialectic between production and representation shaped the Edison films on which he worked. As the production company began to assume control over editing, Porter and his colleagues developed new kinds of continuities between shots. Life of an American Fireman (1902-3)—with its overlapping actions, its narrative repetition, and malleable pro-filmic temporality—is particularly illustrative. (The film is analyzed extensively in chapter 7.) Here and in other instances the Edison group applied this new system of continuity in its most extreme form. Such representational strategies proved so successful that they justified and helped to generalize this development. When the viability of these techniques faded, however, Porter refused to give them up. Porter's failure to adopt the emerging proto-Hollywood mode of representation in 1908-9 (embraced by Pathé, Vitagraph, and particularly D. W. Griffith) caused his fall from grace even more than his resistance to the transformation in production.

Although a series of transformations provide the framework for this study, important aspects of early cinema remained relatively stable. In fact, such qualities characterize and define early cinema. Viewers understood and enjoyed screen images in several distinctive ways. Audiences frequently viewed a film in relation to a narrative that they already knew. The narrative might be based on a front-page newspaper item, a play, or a popular song. If spectators were ignorant of the necessary referents, they could make little sense of the film. In other instances, exhibitors facilitated audience understanding of the images with a sound accompaniment—for instance, with a lecture or by speaking dialogue from behind the screen. While some early films required neither special knowl-


edge from spectators nor active intervention by the exhibitor, such situations were neither preferred to other audience-screen relationships nor dominated screen practice. Only in the nickelodeon era did cinema emerge as a cultural practice in which neither the exhibitor's intervention nor special knowledge on the part of the audience was necessary to a basic understanding of the narrative.[28]

Edison films, like early cinema in general, had a recognizable and coherent system of representing the world. As Tom Gunning has pointed out, performers or subjects in front of the lens characteristically played to or displayed themselves for the camera and an imagined audience.[29] Such an approach might involve tableau-like, static compositions or a confrontation with the camera/ spectator (for instance a cavalry charge directed at the lens). Early fiction films likewise more or less adopted a diagrammatic relationship to the real world, one that limited the degree of verisimilitude. Thus depictions of space and time were generally conventionalized and schematic. Sets suggested a locale rather than creating the illusion of a real world. Condensations of time and action within the shot were commonplace. (Perhaps more surprising, many actuality films achieved similar effects through jump cuts or camera stops.) The acting style likewise embodied highly conventionalized gestures that expressed forceful emotions. The periodic reliance on pantomime by early filmmakers further intensified these tendencies. These interrelated elements of a representational system will be called presentational , appropriating a term from theatrical criticism that is used to describe similar methods that predominated in the theater during much of the nineteenth century. This presentational approach is, moreover, evident in a wide array of other cultural forms from the same period (painting, photography, comic strips).

If presentationalism usually dominated early cinema, it was not an absolute. Films before Griffith were generally "syncretic": they combined and juxtaposed different kinds and levels of mimesis. Thus verisimilar elements could exist side by side with presentational ones. A real pot hangs on a wall next to another painted on the backdrop. A two-dimensional, pasteboard cabin may be placed in the middle of real woods. Such syncreticism operated between shots as easily as within them. A film like The "Teddy" Bears uses a set for one exterior scene and outside location footage for another. Clearly this is different from the consistently represented "seamless" mimetic world of most later cinema.

In examining the interaction between production and representation, it has been advantageous to place early cinema in the larger framework of screen practice. When looking at cinema's beginnings, most histories use some variation of a biological model of development. In its crudest form, this model suggests that the medium was born, grew up, learned to talk, and (having mastered the language of cinema) finally began to produce great works.[30] In any case, cinema moves from the very simple, the naive, and the unformed to the more


complex and sophisticated. More recently, a number of historians have seen cinema as emerging out of a diversity of precursors to become a culturally and economically determined form of expression.[31] Both these historical models view the invention of cinema as a starting point. In contrast, a history of screen practice considers projected moving pictures as both a continuation and transformation of magic-lantern traditions in which showmen displayed images on a canvas and accompanied them with voice, music, and sound effects. It is worth noting that this notion of historical continuity was commonplace during the first ten years of cinema. As Henry V. Hopwood remarked in 1899, "A film for projecting a Living Picture is nothing more, after all, than a multiple lantern slide."[32]

The history of projected images and their sound accompaniment has its origins in the mid seventeenth century. The beginning of screen practice does not, however, privilege a moment of technological invention—such as the invention of the magic lantern or the cinematographic apparatus—but rather a fundamental transformation in the mode of production. Screen practice began in the 1640s when the process of projecting images was no longer concealed from the unsuspecting viewer. Instead of being an instrument of terror and magic known only to a select few, the projecting apparatus became an instrument of cultural production that was known to all.[33] The history of screen practice prior to 1896 has been neglected by film historians. Although it remains outside the domain of this study, it provides a necessary framework for understanding the processes of industrial transformation examined in this volume. Pre-cinema exhibitors, for example, were the ones who had ultimate control over the editing process; they acquired slides from a variety of sources (including often making the slides themselves) and juxtaposed one projected image against another. The new technology of motion pictures helped to transform the screen, facilitating a shift in both narrative responsibility and authorship from exhibitors to the production companies.

While the interrelationship between production and representation is key to understanding the changes in editorial and narrative practices, its impact extends beyond these areas. The production of Edison films within a white, "homosocial," male world affected the choice of subjects as well as the ways in which these were depicted.[34] Again and again, when early filmmakers expressed a nostalgia for a lost childhood, it was boyhood they recalled and boyhood that they visualized. Such biases shaped the portrayal of women and blacks in particular. The complex relationships between work and leisure at the turn of the century, which Roy Rosenzweig and Kathy Peiss have astutely explored, finds a profound conjunction in the early film industry.[35]

Subject Matter and Ideology

A second line of attention in this study focuses on subject matter and its treatment in Edison films. Here cinema is related to other cultural texts and


practices from which film production appropriated images, gags, and stories. At first they were almost exclusively from the world of masculine amusement, of dancing girls and prize fights. Output was soon adjusted to accommodate "heterosocial" amusement in which women and men participated as spectators. Porter's earliest films, often made with George S. Fleming or James White, served a variety of needs. Some were incorporated into travelogues, perhaps the most popular form of pre-cinema screen entertainment. Others documented vaudeville acts. Most functioned as a visual newspaper. The newspaper in turn-of-the-century America, then one of the few forms of mass communication, had a profound influence on other cultural practices, not least of which was the cinema.[36] Individual films had strong ties to different types of journalistic features: news stories, editorial cartoons, human interest columns, and the comic strip. Even fight films and travel scenes were not inconsistent with cinema as a visual newspaper, for the papers covered both sports and travel. As with the newspapers, the purpose of cinema at the turn of the century was to inform as much as to entertain. By 1902-3, cinema was losing its efficacy as a visual newspaper and was reconceived primarily as a storytelling form. For most production companies, this shift meant that cinema's new role was increasingly to amuse. A significant exception to this pattern involved a group of Porter films made between November 1904 (The Ex-Convict ) and December 1905 (Life of an American Policeman ). These had an explicit social concern. Often Progressive in their politics, they presented a complex, sometimes contradictory, and finally conservative vision of the world. Only at the end of 1905, when the nickelodeon era was under way, did Porter accept the notion of cinema as simple amusement—a shift that may well have been influenced by commercial decisions made by Edison executives.

As the proliferation of storefront theaters turned cinema into a form of mass entertainment, traditional guardians of American culture and public morality protested against subject matter they often considered sensationalistic and corrupting. Porter and the Edison Company found that the broader their audience, the narrower the boundaries of acceptable subject matter and its treatment became. While Thomas Edison and his managerial staff actively supported the articulation of certain "standards" in the face of mounting protest, propriety was occasionally violated—at least in the eyes of some critics—even within the Kinetograph Department. The solution that finally won the support of Edison and his executive Frank Dyer was to defuse criticism by supporting a National Board of Censorship. For these entrepreneurs, the issue was not freedom of expression but maximizing profits within a mass communication system.

Films expressed larger social, political, and cultural concerns even as they sometimes served a personal, reparative function for the filmmaker.[37] The ideological orientation of early cinema has been much discussed. Noël Burch has argued that in form and content these films reflected "the infantilism of the working classes. "[38] Others, such as Robert C. Allen, have seen early cinema as


addressing a middle-class audience and presumably reflecting its ideological orientation.[39] Certainly, America has been called a middle-class country, and this is nowhere more apparent than in its cultural products. The middle class, however, was not a single, unified group, but made up of diverse and even contradictory interests. Harry Braverman makes a useful distinction between what he calls the old and the new middle classes.[40] The old middle class was largely outside the labor-capital dialectic in that it neither sold nor bought labor power on an extensive basis. The new middle class of employees, however, functioned within this labor-capital dialectic, assuming in certain respects the position of the working class and at other times that of employer. Although Porter was a member of the new middle class, his attitudes were shaped by his earlier experiences in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, where his family and then Porter himself had been small businessmen. His films reflect a personal distaste for the workings of large-scale, impersonal capitalistic enterprises: particularly The Ex-Convict, The Kleptomaniac , and The Miller's Daughter . This was not a uniquely personal vision so much as the principal cinematic expression of a more general outlook that then found frequent cultural expression.

In looking at Porter's work, one finds a remarkable ideological unity. The filmmaker's unhappiness with advanced capitalism extended beyond the subject matter of his films and included his resistance to the manufacturing division of labor that arose in the wake of the nickelodeon era. Here again, his approach was that of the old middle class. This did not mean that he wished to work alone, but that he preferred to work with others in an informal, collaborative manner. Finally, the representational system that Porter championed reflected the same old-middle-class orientation, not simply because it embodied a specific set of working methods and prevented the new, impersonal system of mass entertainment from operating effectively, but because it usually depended on audiences sharing his basic cultural frame of reference. Within this framework of production and representation, Porter conducted a far-reaching exploration of cinema's manifold possibilities.

Commercial Methods

Commercial strategies both at Edison and within the industry as a whole constitute a final level of attention. One popular approach to business activities in the film industry has been based on industrial organization economics, "an economic theory of technological innovation, which posits that a product or process is introduced to increase profits in three systematic phases: invention, innovation and diffusion."[41] However, an approach focusing on business strategies provides an insufficient basis for constructing a history of American cinema (or any cultural practice). Moreover, business strategies for the 1895-1909 period were concerned with innovations in many different areas, including sub-


ject matter, modes of representation, marketing, and production. It is not clear why the introduction of technology should be privileged in such a history.

Although this study deals extensively with management decisions that had as their goals the maximization of profits, the history of early cinema suggests a more appropriate framework for analysis: the examination of business strategies in relation to changing modes of production and representation rather than simply in terms of technology. This approach is dialectical rather than cyclical, and it rejects the notion of technological determinism implicit in industrial organization economics. Technology is an essential aspect of the mode of production, but it is often not the crucial factor in accounting for change and new economic opportunities. The nickelodeon era was made possible by the production of an increasing number of longer films that could be used interchangeably by theaters. Vitagraph's and Pathé's rapid expansion in film production after 1905 was based on their astute assessment of this new development. In contrast, the Edison Company's failure to respond effectively and quickly significantly weakened its position in the industry. A methodology that translates technological innovation directly into business practices risks patterning information in ways that render it inaccurate.[42]

Relations between film producers and exhibitors are central to an understanding of commercial strategies and disputes within the industry. In the film business, tension has always existed between these two groups as each attempts to achieve dominance within the industry. This conflict has been manifested characteristically in vertical expansion or integration as exhibitors moved into film production or producers into exhibition. Since the advent of the nickelodeons, producers and exhibitors have tried to strengthen their positions by controlling distribution. Sometimes independent distributors have been able to function at this interface. This was the case when the nickelodeon era began—although even then exhibitors and producers owned important exchanges. Within a few years, however, producers were once again seeking to exercise control over this important commercial function. Not surprisingly, distribution has become a key branch of the film industry.

The motion picture industry did not, however, operate as a self-contained entity. One area in which the larger society had a crucial impact on the industry's commercial structure was through the judicial system. Thomas Edison constantly relied on legal action to protect or expand his stake within the industry. Between 1898 and 1902, he had considerable success with this approach and managed to put many competitors out of business. Others were allowed to continue under a commercial licensing arrangement designed to benefit the inventor. Facing setbacks in the courts between 1902 and 1906, "the Wizard of Menlo Park" lost his position as the dominant producer. In 1907, however, his motion picture patents won significant judicial recognition, encouraging the inventor to establish a "trust," a combination of leading production companies subsequently known as "the Edison licensees." The resulting trade association


hoped to control the American industry. When it failed to accomplish this, the organization was expanded to include the patents and commercial clout of rival concerns. The resulting Motion Picture Patents Company was formed at the end of 1908 and put into full operation early in 1909. Its goal was to assure a high level of profit and raise barriers against those who would otherwise have entered this profitable field.

The moving picture was only one of several products exploited by Thomas Edison and his executive staff during this era. The Kinetograph Department, where Edison located his film activities, was part of the Edison Manufacturing Company, which also produced batteries, x-ray machines, and dental equipment. Edison's National Phonograph Company, which shared the same top executives as the Edison Manufacturing Company, was more profitable and closer to the inventor's heart. The inventor's storage battery, Portland cement, and iron ore-milling ventures, required large infusions of capital—sapping money from other Edison-operated ventures, including film. (In the case of Portland Cement and iron ore milling, Edison and his investors lost large sums of money.)[43] The motion picture business, while important, was not the sole focus of attention it was for most of Edison's rivals. The inventor's film business also suffered from frequent turnovers in management-level personnel. Porter worked under four different department heads: James Henry White (October 1896 to November 1902), William Markgraf (December 1902 through March 1904), Alex T. Moore (March 1904 through March 1909), and Horace G. Plimpton (March 1909 until August 1915). William E. Gilmore served as vice-president and general manager of the Edison Manufacturing Company from April 1895 to June 1908 and actively participated in all important decisions during that period. He was replaced by Frank Dyer, Edison's chief patent lawyer, who reorganized the Kinetograph Department and the entire film industry, hastening Porter's demotion from studio manager to technical expert in February 1909. These were the people who principally determined Edison business policy, an area in which Porter appears to have had little say.

Business considerations constantly influenced what Porter produced. Economic pressures based on the pattern of film sales were determining factors in the shift from actualities to acted "features." Certain films—for instance, Porter's remake of Biograph's popular hit Personal —were first and foremost commercial weapons used to undermine the success of competitors. The decision to rely on "dupes,"[44] calculated on the basis of financial gain, adversely affected the attention paid and resources available to original productions. Edison business strategies were formulated within the framework of the industry's overall development, and it is only within this context that Porter's work can be fully appreciated.

This study is organized in a chronological fashion, broken down into chapters that emphasize important changes from the introduction of cinema as a


screen novelty to the establishment of new practices still associated with modern cinema. Deciding upon the precise moment when these changes occurred as the basis for chapter divisions demanded difficult and sometimes arbitrary decisions. Individual chapters often use specific events and circumstances in Porter's work and Edison Company policy as points of division. While a slightly different breakdown could be offered, it is not so much specific dates and divisions that are important as the general pattern of development.

This book is designed to serve several functions above and beyond providing a history of Porter and Edison film activities between 1894 and 1909. It is meant to be used in conjunction with screenings of the films. If, as this study argues, films were often understood within a framework of specific knowledge or with the assistance of a narrator, then today's spectators need that same knowledge readily at hand. If the films are to be fully appreciated, they not only need to be preserved and made available to the public (a function ably performed by the Museum of Modern Art and other institutions), but the context in which they were seen has to be partially reconstituted. Therefore, for example, the song "Waiting at the Church" has been reprinted in its entirety so the reader can see Porter's Waiting at the Church , and enjoy the correspondence between the two. Selected catalog descriptions have been included, not only to make available key film narratives—including information that could never be derived from a silent viewing of the film—but to provide descriptions that today's students and historians can use to create their own lectures to accompany the films. This volume also serves as a companion to the documentary film Before the Nickelodeon: The Early Cinema of Edwin S. Porter . All the quotations used in the documentary appear in this volume with the appropriate references. A finding aid for these appears in appendix C. In a few cases, recent research has uncovered new information that has made small corrections necessary. The book and the film are designed to complement each other.

This volume also forms part of a larger study, a trilogy of books, I have undertaken on early cinema in America. High-Class Moving Pictures: Lyman H. Howe and the Forgotten Era of Traveling Exhibition, 1880-1920 , written with the collaboration of Carol Nelson and published by Princeton University Press, looks at the activities of America's traveling motion picture exhibitors, particularly Lyman Howe, and also analyzes cultural divisions within middle-class audiences. The Emergence of Cinema in America , a historical overview of American cinema to 1907, published by Scribner's/Macmillan, is the first book in the ten-volume American Film History Project edited by Charles Harpole. Finally, a filmography of Edison films, including extensive documentation, is in preparation. Early cinema, like most cultural phenomena, is not easily grasped in all its complexity. I hope that this body of work, in conjunction with the accomplishments of colleagues and fellow scholars, will enhance people's appreciation for this formative period in motion picture history and contribute to the general knowledge of American culture.


Porter's Early Years. 1870-1896

To understand the underpinnings of Edwin Stanton Porter's approach to filmmaking, we must turn to the world in which he was born and spent the first twenty-three years of his life.[1] As with any individual, his subsequent activities were a complex response to these formative experiences—in his case, one that involved significant continuities. With his films often nostalgically longing for a lost past and a romanticized childhood, a biographical study must reassert the concrete character of that world. Porter grew up in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, a small town fifty miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Its population in 1870, the year of his birth, was 1,292. Despite this modest size, it was not a rural community but a small industrial center.

In the 1870s Connellsville functioned principally as a railroad repair center.[2] By the end of the decade, it was producing large amounts of coke—processed coal used primarily for making steel. Connellsville coke soon became known as the best in the country, and the area depended on this industry for its prosperity. Connellsville more than doubled in size by the 1880 census to 3,615 inhabitants. Although the town had its share of small businessmen, including Porter's father, his extended family, and friends, the environs were dominated by the economic realities of large-scale production. The often-troubled relationship between absentee owners of extensive coke works and a large number of "cokers"—workers who mined the coal and tended the coke ovens—was a fundamental aspect of Connellsville life. Connellsville also boasted various forms of commercial popular culture, in which Porter participated. This environment provided Porter with the experiences, presuppositions, and skills that were to facilitate, shape, and influence his subsequent work as a filmmaker.


The Porter Family

Edwin S. Porter was born on April 21, 1870, to Thomas Richard and Mary (Clark) Porter. His namesake was Edwin M. Stanton, a Democratic politician from Ohio who served as Abraham Lincoln's secretary of war. This name was Porter's own, somewhat later choice, for his parents called him Edward; and as a short chubby boy, he went by the nickname of "Betty."[3] The youngest member of his family for ten years, Ed ultimately became the fourth of seven children, the others being Charles W. (born 1864), Frank (1867), Mary (1868), Ada (1880), John (1883), and Everett Melbourne (1889). His father, Thomas Porter, was one of at least seven brothers who grew up in nearby Perryopolis. Their father, Edward's grandfather, was a stone cutter.[4] After the Civil War, several brothers moved to Connellsville, which was expanding with the growing coke trade. In the 1870s Thomas's older brother Henry, also a stone cutter, became Connellsville's postmaster, a much-sought-after position, which kept his children employed as postal clerks. Through combined financing and partnerships, the Porter clan established or invested in several local enterprises.

Porter's father was a small businessman often dependent on his more successful siblings. When Edward was born, Thomas Porter was working as a cabinetmaker. By the following year he was running Porter & Brother, a furniture store and undertaking establishment owned by his older brothers. The only funeral service in town for the next seven years, Porter & Brother rented furniture for these and other occasions. As Connellsville expanded rapidly in population, the firm began to sell factory-made furniture, for which it also enjoyed a local monopoly. By late 1877 the business was jointly owned by Thomas and John Porter, with John's son Everett Melbourne acting as co-manager. Four years later, John Porter was reportedly worth $50,000, while "Thomas Porter, the managing partner, has very little outside of his investment in firm but is economic, industrious and temperate."[5]

Thomas Porter assumed control of the undertaking business in 1888 when Everett Melbourne, who had been increasingly ill with consumption, died in February, a month after his father. Edward's oldest brother, Charles W. Porter, was soon brought into the family business, renamed Thomas Porter & Co. The local newspaper glowingly described the firm shortly after Thomas had taken full charge:

. . . Of this house it is only fair to say that they have probably done as much toward accelerating the commercial activity of the town by their enterprise as any other concern within its limits. They occupy part of the three-story building of Soisson's Block on Main Street. Their room is of spacious dimensions, being 20 × 70 feet in extent, with a large manufacturing room and other necessary outbuildings in the rear. They unquestionably carry as large a stock as any to be found in the country, including dining-room, reception and drawing room, parlor, library and bedroom suites of every description. In their undertaking department they are equally well equipped, carrying


caskets, coffins, etc. of all grades and sizes. They own two fine hearses, one for children and one for adults, besides a large and beautiful funeral car. Mr. Thomas Porter is especially fitted by nature and practical experience for the delicate duties devolving upon him of the embalming of the dead.

The house was established eighteen years ago under the style of Porter and Brother. This was in a small way, but by diligence in business and energy, fair and honorable dealing, this house now represents the very best class of houses in Western Pennsylvania in the line of fine furniture and funeral directors.[6]

By the early 1890s Charles Porter and his father may have had a falling out: the son set up his own company, eventually forcing Thomas Porter into retirement.[7]

Thomas Porter's success was more modest than his brothers'. Shortly after Edward was born, Samuel, John, and Henry Porter formed a partnership with three other Connellsville men to conduct a general foundry and plow manufactory. The firm added a new branch in 1873 for forgings and machine work. By 1880 some of the partners were bought out and the firm became known as Boyts, Porter & Company. Its most successful product, the Yough pump, captured a substantial market among mining companies across the country. The business flourished and became one of the two major manufacturing establishments in Connellsville during the 1880s.[8]

Edward Porter had other relatives living in Connellsville. His cousin William Porter had a large family and carried on the family trade as a stone cutter.[9] His mother's family was also from the borough. His uncle William Clark sometimes served as justice of the peace, and a great great grandfather, Abraham Clark, had signed the Declaration of Independence. With several aunts likewise living in the area, Edward was related to a significant portion of the population.[10]

Family life was of central importance to the Porters and other Connellsville residents. The disintegration of a family through death or separation was the worst tragedy a person could suffer, according to the Keystone Courier , which often featured such incidents on its front page.[11] When Henry Porter learned of his eldest son's death, he suffered a stroke, from which he never fully recovered, dying less than two years later.[12] After Everett Melbourne's death, Thomas Porter named his next child after this deceased nephew. Thomas Porter's role as funeral director meant that death and loss of family constantly impinged on the Porter household. No doubt this left a strong impression on young Edward, most likely shaping his development from an early age. Moreover, loss was something that Porter experienced very directly later in his life, when attempts to start a family would be repeatedly frustrated as his wife suffered a dozen miscarriages.[13] In reaction, the filmmaker became preoccupied with the family unit. Although family-centered dramas were common in early-twentieth-century popular culture, Porter drew on such narratives with remarkable frequency. From Life of an American Fireman (1903) to Rescued from an Eagle's Nest (1908), it is the saving of the parents' only child (or in the case of Lost in the


Alps [1907], their two children) that dominates and brings relief. This perpetually happy conclusion stands in stark contrast to Porter's own life. He was not so fortunate, and his inability to have children contributed to his growing reclusiveness and eccentricity in later years.[14]

While Porter's family was part of Connellsville's community of small businessmen and shopkeepers, the town's merchants are of additional interest in that four of its members eventually purchased the rights to "Edison's Vitascope" in 1896.[15] J. R. Balsley was a prominent builder with a lumber mill. F. E. Markell owned drugstores in Connellsville, neighboring New Haven, and East Pittsburgh. R. S. Paine ran a shoe store and had some additional capital invested in other ventures, including a Florida orange grove. Cyrus Echard worked in the coal trade. These local merchants were a closely knit group. They served together on committees, celebrated each other's birthdays, and hired each other's children to clerk their stores. J. R. Balsley's son, Charles H. Balsley, was Ed Porter's best friend. In 1890-91, both worked for the slightly older J. F. Norcross, who had inherited his father's tailoring establishment. The three bachelors formed a youthful triumvirate, not only at work but in their occasional pursuit of adventure. Work and leisure were interwoven in a single, all-male environment. Their work life, with its informality and equality, was in marked contrast to the coke industry's regimentation and hierarchy. After Norcross married and moved west in the fall of 1892, Porter opened his own business as a merchant tailor.[16]

The coke industry impinged on every aspect of daily life in Connellsville, expanding from 5,000 ovens in 1880 to more than 17,000 by 1893.[17] In 1880 a visitor found his entrance into town "lit up by the lurid glare of coke ovens, while the stars were obscured by the murky smoke."[18] With crowded streets, Connellsville was a "business town where everyone seemed to have an object in view," he observed. "Here and there a drunken man reeled along, and from various drinking houses came the noise of revellers." As he passed along the borough's main thoroughfare he saw "the reflected light of the Pittsburg and Connellsville Gas, Coal and Coke Company's ovens. The ovens number 250, the longest continuous line of ovens in the region." The fumes destroyed nearby vegetation and damaged crops and fruit trees. Industry triumphed over agriculture, and when farmers sought redress through the courts, the justice system finally ruled in favor of the coke operators.[19] Coal mining, tending coke ovens, and running the trains was dangerous work. While the large number of industrial accidents and deaths owing to "consumption" and bad air contributed to the prosperity of the Porter undertaking establishment, the fumes also affected the Porters' health. As a child, Edward suffered bouts of pneumonia aggravated by the bad air.[20]

Although Connellsville's merchants prospered when the coke industry did well and suffered when it did badly, those who owned the industry and those


who worked in and around it were removed from many aspects of small-town life. Cokers lived in company housing and bought most necessities from company stores. Their alienation from the local community increased after 1879 when "foreign," that is, Eastern European, labor was brought into the region.[21] The formerly strong kinship and ethnic ties between the cokers and the townspeople began to break down as a result. By 1889 Henry Frick controlled the region's coke trade, and the coke works were owned by distant corporations that had little direct interest in the local communities.[22] For local small businessmen—members of the old middle class—the fundamental opposition was between themselves and mammoth corporate entities represented by the coke industry, not between labor and capital. To a significant extent, these men worked outside the labor-capital dialectic and saw it as a foreign and undesirable intrusion.

Dependent on the coke works for their general welfare, the small-town merchants often felt helpless. Their anxiety increased whenever tension erupted into class warfare. Strikes occurred throughout Porter's youth: in 1877, 1879, 1880, 1883, 1886, 1887, 1889, and 1891.[23] The strikes of 1886 and 1891 were particularly brutal and protracted. The owners sought to break these actions by importing scab labor, thereby forcing strikers to resort to violence to keep the mines closed. The coal operators in turn hired ex-policemen and Pinkertons to protect their interests. In the strike of 1891, cokers were killed and the National Guard was called in. Porter observed a mounting pattern of violence as the coke industry expanded and Frick consolidated his position within it.

The difficult relationship existing between Connellsville's old middle class and the coke industry was apparent in the Democratic Keystone Courier , which spoke primarily for the town's small businessmen, its principal advertisers. Its pages contained editorials preaching against strikes—opposing the operators who provoked them as much as the miners who undertook them. The Courier constantly called for arbitration and the avoidance of conflicts that disrupted business, not only the coke business but the merchants'. It saw itself as an impartial judge in such situations and felt free to lecture both sides on their responsibilities. The paper and the old middle class saw themselves as representing public opinion and providing a moral weight that should be decisive. In the midst of "the most general strike ever inaugurated here," the Courier asserted that "unbiased observers unite in the opinion that if the latter [the workers] return to work, public feeling will compel the former [the operators] to grant the advance asked and remedy the abuses complained of—abuses that even the operators admit do exist."[24] Imbued with this attitude since childhood, Porter later expressed similar desires for the reconciliation of labor and capital. This moral judgment claiming to operate objectively above the conflict is apparent in a number of his films, including The Ex-Convict (1904).

Despite being caught in the middle of the labor-capital conflict, Con-


nellsville's merchants generally favored the miners, who were their real or potential customers—and often relations or members of the same church. Certainly it was in their self-interest, for when the coke workers were fully employed and well paid, local business prospered too. During the strike of January and February 1886, a temporary alliance was forged between the miners and many of the merchants. The store owners donated food and clothing, while the miners demanded an end to the "pluck-me's"—company stores that advanced credit to their employees, making money by inflating prices and depriving local merchants of revenues they might otherwise have expected. Significantly, the strike was won by the workers, although the company-store issue was not resolved.[25]

There were limitations and contradictions in the Courier's support for the working class. To retain the paper's support, the coke workers had to stay within the law even if operators brought in scab labor. Attempts by workers to meet these threats with violence or the destruction of company property were strongly condemned. Socialists and other radical elements were anathema. Old-middle-class support for the working class therefore functioned within a limited framework. Within similar limits, Porter's sympathies for the working class are evident in films such as The Kleptomaniac (1905).

Growing up in Connellsville, Porter apparently adopted the strong prejudices that his family and friends held against many immigrant groups. During the 1880s the town's native white population developed a deep-seated antipathy for Eastern European immigrants. The first explosion of hostility came in February 1883, when an open letter accused the "Hated Hun" of barbaric acts. "One of the most degrading influences brought to bear on our community is the indiscriminate importation of Hungarian serfs and their employment on public works, in preference to good located citizens who are willing and can perform more and better labor for the same pay," this "Appeal to the Christian Public" claimed.[26] The Courier , at first appalled by the vituperative attacks, soon adopted the same terminology. Such hostility focused on the "not overly clean habits and queer customs" of the "Hated Huns." Native workers were disturbed by a common sight: "their women in a state of semi-nudity at work in the . . . blinding dust of a coke yard forking the product of the ovens."[27] By 1886, 25 percent of the cokers were Poles, Hungarians, and Bohemians, while another 10 percent were Germans and Prussians.[28] These workers were initially seen as the tools of the operators who brought them to their mines. During the strike of 1886, however, they proved to be more militant and radical than their domestic counterparts. When they rioted to maintain the effectiveness of the strike, the "Hated Huns" were characterized as lawbreakers and dangerous radicals.

Porter was almost certainly a member of the nativist Order of United Mechanics, which sprang up to challenge the disruptions caused by the protracted, violent strike of 1891. A member of this secret beneficial association had to be a native-born American, of good moral character, believe in a supreme being,


favor the public school system, oppose the union of church and state, and be capable of earning a living.[29] Edward Porter's friend and employer, J. F. Norcross, and his best friend's father, J. R. Balsley, sat on the order's financial committee, which organized a parade of its membership in Connellsville on July 4, 1891. The Courier announced, "The Biggest Fourth in the History of the Town Promised by American Mechanics, The Red Flag of the Socialists Recently Displayed in the Coke Regions Stirs the Blood of the UAM's. . . . They are anxious to show the foreign rabble who rally under it how well American labor loves the American flag."[30] J. R. Balsley, one of the order's most active members, gave a Memorial Day speech denouncing the troublemakers.

We are sorry that there is in our land today an element of discontent, but when we know that this class is made up of the scum of foreign nations and a few weak minded of our own land, there need be little [to] fear from this quarter. These men would not be satisfied with any laws that human skill could enact. If it was possible for them to enter heaven, they would at once want to change the ruling of the divine master.[31]

The ethnic stereotypes in Porter's The Finish of Bridget McKeen (1901), Cohen's Fire Sale (1907), and Laughing Gas (1907) were consistent with the attitudes Porter developed in the western Pennsylvania coke region. They had many counterparts in popular culture and reflected the general ethnic and racial prejudices of most native-born whites.

Porter and Connellsville's Cultural Life

Porter has been portrayed by some historians as a naïf who "had no background or experience in art" and so was unaware of the implications of his work.[32] This is certainly inaccurate, for he was an active participant in Connellsville's cultural life at a time when it was being fundamentally transformed. During the 1870s commercial, popular culture had come to Connellsville only infrequently. The churches, public schools, and the local press were the principal cultural institutions. For an evening's entertainment, a minister might deliver a light-hearted lecture on subjects such as "Fashion" or the local debating society argue topics such as "Can the existence of God be proven without the aid of divine revelation?" or "Should foreign immigration be prohibited?"[33] Performances by touring theater groups were rare and not well attended. When Thorne's Comedy Company came to town in April 1880, twenty people were in the audience, and the play was dismissed as "worse than mediocre." This, the first company to be reported in the Keystone Courier , did not survive its Connellsville performance and was disbanded.[34] The next troupe to visit the borough, the Stenson Comedy Company, did not pass through town for another eight months. In 1880 residents were dependent on their occasional visits to Pittsburgh for most of their theatrical entertainment.


In September 1881, however, work began on Connellsville's first commercial theater, the Newmyer Opera House, a source of civic pride, "as finely furnished as any in the country."[35] According to one local reporter, "The stage is fitted up with a thousand dollar piano, a five-piece parlor set and Brussels carpet. The drop curtain is one of the prettiest we have seen anywhere, and is supplemented with abundant scenery of various kinds."[36] After opening with a performance of Camille , the opera house was frequented by many traveling companies.

Edwin Porter later recalled: "I worked around a local theater of which my brother was manager; acted in the capacity of ticket taker, usher, etc."[37] While the Newmeyer did have a manager named Porter during the 1883-84 and 1884-85 seasons, this was Byron Porter, at most a distant relative.[38] His small orchestra provided visiting theatrical companies with music. It also gave concerts, performing pieces that were arranged, and in at least one instance composed, by Byron Porter himself.[39] Called "the leading artist in this section of the state,"[40] Byron Porter was apparently an important figure in Ed Porter's early life. The two Porter families were closely associated; and, as manager of the opera house, Byron Porter had to maintain links with the town's main undertaker and furniture store in case he needed additional seating. Young Edward was an apparent beneficiary. Byron Porter was also the town's first photographer and ran a photographic gallery and art store. He may have taught Edward the rudiments of photography, an invaluable skill for his subsequent career.[41]

The Newmyer Opera House exposed Porter to a wide range of theatrical experiences. The ever-popular Uncle Tom's Cabin , which enjoyed a unique place in American cultural life, was performed there many times during Porter's Connellsville residence. In later years he was said to have acted out the story as a child, assuming the role of slave owner Simon Legree.[42] Other companies gave minstrel shows, melodramas, various works by Gilbert and Sullivan, travesties like the seriocomic Medea , Irish plays like Hibernica and Shamus O'Brien , and even a few tragedies. Performances included Daniel Boone; or, On the Trail (a local favorite), Peck's Bad Boy, The Count of Monte Cristo (minus James O'Neill), and She , adapted from Rider Haggard's book and produced by William Brady. The opera house was also used by the Kickapoo Indians, a medicine show; for wrestling matches; and to host a visit by John L. Sullivan, the world's boxing champion.[43] This eclecticism of subject matter would find continuity in much of Porter's own filmmaking career, if only as a result of similar commercial pressures. Certain of his pictures may have also been informed by Porter's early experience in the opera house—for instance, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903), the Irish drama Kathleen Mavourneen (1906), Daniel Boone (1906), and She (1908). His later conception of cinema as filmed theater must have owed something to this as well.

As a successful filmmaker, Edwin Porter recalled other jobs that acquainted him with the mechanical end of the theatrical business. "Later my brother was


'advance' for Washburn and Huntington's circus. I was on the bill car. In that way I came to have a general idea of the circus business. I also traveled with him a part of the season in comic opera."[44] Although these experiences are impossible to verify, they were not unusual for the period; Vaudeville magnate Benjamin Franklin Keith entered the world of commercial amusements after visiting the circus at seventeen.[45] Edward Franklin Albee and Frederick F. Proctor, both prominent vaudeville entrepreneurs, also had early circus experiences.[46] Circuses were the major form of commercial summer amusement in many sections of the United States and frequently came to Connellsville while Porter was growing up. A visit from Barnum's Circus was an important event on the year's calendar, with 20,000 people seeing the main attraction in one day. In 1888 Forepaugh's Wild West Show stopped off and reenacted the holdup of the Deadwood Stage and "Custer's last rally."[47]

Porter also claimed to have been an exhibition skater. Roller-skating became a craze for the first time in the mid 1880s. During the winter of 1884-85 Connellsville had two indoor skating rinks. At their height, the rinks offered recreational skating in which the sexes mingled in casual social contact. Rink managers drew customers by presenting exhibition skaters, bicycle acts, and variety companies. They organized competitions and sponsored "a neck-tie and apron social."[48] Only a few out-of-town performers are mentioned in press clippings, but Porter could have easily been a local demonstrator. Porter thus associated himself with the three major forms of popular culture then making their appearance in Connellsville: the opera house, the circus, and the skating rink.

The emergence of commercial, popular culture in Connellsville during the 1880s produced a cultural split within the town's middle class. The rise of various amusement forms challenged what Alan Trachtenberg has called a virtually official middle-class image of America that was "a deliberate alternative to two extremes, the lavish and conspicuous squandering of wealth among the very rich, and the squalor of the very poor."[49] This Protestant culture sought to enrich people's lives through self-cultivation and self-education. It was centered in the churches, which provided an array of lectures and other educational opportunities. Among these were several examples of pre-cinematic screen entertainment. The lantern shows Paradise Lost, The Customs and Times of Washington , and Sights and Scenes in Europe were given at Methodist, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches.[50] A panorama showing painted scenes of America and Europe was exhibited by Presbyterian and Baptist denominations.[51] In Connellsville, as in most communities outside the metropolitan centers, these two entertainment forms continued to be aligned with religious institutions seeking to educate, inspire, and entertain their mostly middle-class congregations.

The opera house, the circus, and the skating rink did not attempt to educate their patrons; they sought instead to address their desires. They drew middle-


class people away from evening lectures. Trying to revive these older forms of community entertainment, some lectures were moved to Newmyer Opera House; attendance, however, did not improve.[52] In frustration ministers and conservative newspapers denounced the skating rinks, but without success. "The louder the denunciations, the more popular the rinks grew."[53] This reaction against secular, comparatively informal forms of amusement was intensified with the appearance of the Salvation Army in 1886. The pro-amusement Keystone Courier reported its arrival with derisive headlines, calling the group "a case of misdirected energy."[54] The Young Men's Christian Association, which appeared in Connellsville in late 1884, was a more moderate attempt to maintain or expand the church's position in an increasingly secularized cultural life.[55] In the confrontation between church-oriented, moralizing culture and popular commercial culture, Porter sided with the latter.

Porter's early experiences reflect the extent to which the American middle class participated in the amusement realm. Too often commentators link the "official" cultural programs of churches and elites with the entire Protestant middle classes. Too often informality, camaraderie, and frivolity are located within the working classes. Yet important, probably dominant, elements of the Connellsville middle class did not conform to this Victorian ideal or stereotype. They undoubtedly had strong ties to the plebeian culture described by Francis G. Couvares.[56] Popular entertainment was not segmented by class as much as many historians have suggested. Rather, cultural divisions within classes are at least as important when examining leisure activities.

Porter and Technological Innovation

A poor student who abandoned his formal education at an early age,[57] Ed Porter was inspired by the mythic Thomas Edison, famous stories of whose exploits and childhood were already celebrated in the press. The literature emphasized Edison's natural genius, which flourished without formal schooling, his unequaled instinct for useful inventions, and the assumed benefits of technology.[58] Porter, who would one day call himself Thomas Edison, Jr., sought to duplicate the childhood experiences of his idol. As an adolescent he sold newspapers on a train. In 1884-85, according to a later interview, Edward switched from "news butcher" to telegraph operator, working for the Pittsburgh, McKeesport and Youghiogheny Railroad at Demmler, located between Connellsville and Pittsburgh.[59] These were similar to the first jobs held by Edison. If this interview is correct, Porter began to work as a telegraph operator at the age of fourteen, beating his future employer by a precocious year. In the process he acquired a familiarity with electricity that was to help him enter the motion picture industry.

Connellsville and Porter's family were preoccupied with progress and being "up-to-date." Boyts, Porter & Company sold various mechanical innovations,


and the town itself was transformed by basic technological amenities while Porter lived there. After working as a telegraph operator for three or four years, Porter "took up the plumbing trade." A local gas company acquired a franchise for Connellsville in 1886 and by the following year was busy laying pipes to the homes of local residents. In September 1887 plumbers were "busy putting in the pipes."[60] Porter found employment installing this precursor of Edison's electric light. Assuming its resources to be limitless, the gas company left street lamps on twenty-four hours a day, which exhausted its supply of gas within only a few years. No doubt this was a compelling reason for Connellsville to acquire an electric light system in 1889-90.

In September 1889 a group of Connellsville businessmen formed an electric light company and received the local franchise. The generators and equipment used to supply alternating current were purchased from the Westinghouse Company, based in East Pittsburgh. Electric street lights were turned on in Porter's hometown on February 15, 1890. In another few weeks electricity was illuminating stores and residences of Connellsville and neighboring New Haven.[61] By the beginning of 1891 Ed Porter and his friend and fellow tinkerer Charles Balsley had used their spare time to invent a current regulator for electric lamps; this dimmer allowed people to control the intensity of an electric light as they had done with gas light. With this invention, Porter's creativity and his preference for collaborative working methods become apparent; both would continue throughout his working life. The patent application was filed on January 17th and granted on May 5th.[62] Soon after it was approved, the Courier announced:

Charles H. Balsley and Edward Porter received this week letters patent on an Electric Current Regulator, the joint invention of the two young men. It is said to be superior in many respects to any thing yet invented in that line, and can be manufactured almost as cheaply as the ordinary incandescent burners now in use. They have received several flattering offers from manufacturers of electric light machinery, etc. for the right to manufacture and use the appliance on their lamps. The boys, however, are moving with caution in the matter, and have not yet accepted any of the offers. They have also received several orders for the regulator, but as they are not manufacturing the article, they could not fill the orders.[63]

By the following winter J. R. Balsley was selling the device to local residents.[64] Perhaps for this reason, the electric company was soon warning its customers "not to tamper or interfere in any way with any of the poles, wires, converters, conduits or fixtures, etc. controlling or delivering the current made by the Electric Company."[65]

Despite his skills as an electrician and telegraph operator, Porter chose to live in Connellsville and become a merchant tailor. Under other circumstances his early interest in amusements and electricity might have been forgotten and the young small-town businessman would have become a solid, if not stolid, com-



Drawing for current regulator patented 
by Charles Balsley and Edwin Porter.


munity member. Economic realities, however, intervened. In a town where there were too many tailors, his career choice proved to be a poor one. Dry goods stores (mostly run by Jewish businessmen) were exerting competitive pressures on merchant tailors like Porter by offering ready-to-wear clothing. Here Porter's resistance to a modern industrial system, a fact crucial to an understanding of his later motion picture career and his opposition to techniques of mass entertainment, was already discernible. Nor was this unusual. The U.S. Industrial Commission would soon note the willingness of Jews in the garment industry "to change the mode of production by using the sewing machine and division of labor against which the native tailor has shown a decided aversion."[66] Direct parallels with the motion picture industry can easily be established. People like Carl Laemmle, who managed a dry goods store in the early 1900s, quickly understood the implications and possibilities inherent in the nickelodeon form of entertainment, to which Porter never fully accommodated himself.

In the spring of 1893, Porter's new business, already suffering from excessive competition, was battered by a financial panic and depression. The sales of Connellsville merchants fell precipitately, and Porter's small tailoring establishment was one of the first to close its doors—on June 15th, Edward filed for bankruptcy.[67] Ten days earlier, on June 5th, he had eloped to Cumberland, Maryland, with Caroline Ridinger, whose father was an architect in nearby Somerset, Pennsylvania.[68] Once he had declared bankruptcy, Porter left for Philadelphia. This forced separation from his hometown was an experience shared by many Americans. It undoubtedly fostered a nostalgia for small-town life, which was expressed not only in many nineteenth-century melodramas but in Porter's films The Miller's Daughter (1905) and The "White Caps " (1905).

In Philadelphia the ex-tailor enlisted in the navy on June 19, 1893, giving his name as Edwin S. Porter and his trade as telegraph operator. His enlistment record continues: "Eyes , Brown; Hair , Lt. brown; Complexion , Sunburned; Height , 5 feet 4¾ inches; Weight (pounds ), 150."[69] Two somewhat contradictory accounts of his naval career exist, and Porter is the probable source in each instance. After his three-year enlistment was over, the Connellsville boy briefly returned home and provided the local paper with this description of his tour:

Edward Porter returned last week from a long and interesting cruise on the United States Cruiser New York. He left here the beginning of June, three years ago. Going to Philadelphia, he was assigned on the 18th of the same month to the position of an assistant electrician on the vessel named which went into commission from the Cramp Navy yard on August 1st. His official position was Gunner's mate in the Dynamo Room. The ship was fitted up for a southern cruise at the Brooklyn Navy Yards, leaving for the scene of Brazil's trouble on Christmas day. The New York arrived at Rio on Jan 18th and was one of a squadron of six vessels which forced the demands of United States Admiral Bennett, allowing merchant ships from this country to land their stores on the insurgents' land. After these troubles the New York cruised among the West Indies till the middle of the following June, when she returned to New York


and took out a number of naval reserves for practice. She later performed the same service in Philadelphia for the Pennsylvania reserves, returning to the West Indies and the water of Venezuela for an extensive cruise remain[ing] there till May. The vessel and crew were then recalled to New York to prepare for the opening of the great Kell canal. After joining the review there the vessel made a cruise on the Atlantic seacoast of our country, went into winter quarters at Hampton Roads and in May returned to New York bay where the largest fleet ever gathered in American waters was being concentrated. Our town representative on the crew has had a wide field of experience and has many incidents to relate about the scenes and people of his travels.[70]

This youthful account of Porter's adventures in the navy differs from a much later description in the Cyclopedia of American Biography , which claims that Porter "attracted the notice of his superiors by inventing a number of electrical devices to improve the naval communications service. He also assisted Bradley Allen Fiske (q.v.), later a rear admiral, in perfecting the Fiske range-finder."[71]

Porter's naval record offers a more mundane account of these years. The navy gave Porter modest rankings in seamanship (although high points in gunnery) and based him, for the last year at least, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a landsman. Although no notice of Porter's contributions to naval technology is to be found in his record, his work in the electrical field is credible, given his earlier accomplishments and later interests. Such work must have kept him in touch with Edison business associates. A cruise to Central and South America may help to explain Porter's later travels in that area as an exhibitor during 1896-97. The navy also altered Porter's personal life and habits. Although he maintained ties with friends and family, he no longer thought of western Pennsylvania as a place to work and live. Financial realities—his bankruptcy and $16 a month in naval pay—meant that Porter had to go where opportunity beckoned. He ended up trusting his future to his boyhood hero Thomas Edison and moving pictures.


Edison and the Kinetoscope: 1888-1895

When Porter was eighteen years old and still living in Connellsville, Thomas Edison was contemplating a new invention that would record and play back a series of photographs so as to create the illusion of a moving image. Edison's initial interest was sparked by the photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who presented his zoöpraxiscope in Orange, New Jersey, on February 25, 1888, and stayed on to meet Edison at his laboratory two days later.[1] Muybridge and Edison discussed the possibility of combining the former's projecting machine and the latter's phonograph.[2] "I am experimenting upon an instrument which does for the Eye what the phonograph does for the Ear, which is the recording and reproduction of things in motion, and in such a form as to be both Cheap practical and convenient," Edison wrote in October 1888. "This apparatus I call a Kinetoscope 'Moving View.'"[3] Thinking of a motion picture machine in terms of the phonograph provided a familiar frame of reference for the inventor and those employees working on the project, but the parallels would often prove to be a stumbling block. Edison initially planned to have approximately 42,000 images, each about 1/32 of an inch wide, on a cylinder that was the size of his phonograph records. These would be taken on a continuous spiral with 180 images per turn. An individual spectator could then look at twenty-eight minutes of pictures through a microscope while listening to sound from a phonograph.[4]

By June 1889 twenty-nine-year-old William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, one of Edison's chief experimenters and a reputable photographer in his own right, was formally assigned to the project.[5] He and Charles A. Brown (Dickson's chief assistant for this project) worked in Laboratory Room 5, where they received



Thomas Edison as photographed by W. K. L. Dickson.

periodic help from Frederick P. Ott, Eugene Lauste, and others. Brown explained their experiments at this stage: "We first took the phonograph and coated a cylinder and put onto it and had a lens taken out of a microscope and rigged onto it, and then they had a coarse feed wheel onto it so as to run slower, and that fed the lens along in front of the coated cylinder; but we made a great many experiments during that time in trying to see how small pictures we could get."[6] Vibrations in the nearby machine shops were felt to contribute to their difficulties. While Edison was away on his European tour in the late summer and early fall of 1889, Dickson arranged for the construction of a special photographic building for the sum of $516.64. It was in this building, during late 1889 or 1890, that Edison's initial idea was realized in modified form with larger cylinders of approximately 4½ inches in diameter. Leaves of photographic film were wrapped around the cylinders and a series of tiny images were taken, spiralling down its length. A few surviving "films" show a man dressed in white against a black background. He faces the camera and makes strongly



Experimental subject taken by W. K. L. Dickson and William Heise with
 the 1891 horizontal-feed camera (larger than life-size). The subject is James
 Duncan, a day worker at Edison's laboratory.

delineated gestures in a presentational style. Some of the frames are blurred, and it is evident that the idea encountered many difficulties.

During his European travels, Edison met Etienne Jules Marey and learned of the Frenchman's successful efforts to photograph a continuous series of images on a film strip that moved along intermittently in front of a single camera lens. Shortly after returning to his laboratory, Edison drew up a new motion picture caveat that reflected these conceptual advances. The successful construction of an instrument based on these principles was postponed, however, as Edison and Dickson devoted most of their time to iron ore milling. Work on the kinetograph revived in October 1890, when Dickson was joined by a new assistant named William Heise. They constructed a new camera that used a ¾-inch strip of film. The film was exposed by using a horizontal-feed system rather than the vertical-feed one that would come to characterize modern motion pictures. A single row of small perforations ran along the bottom edge of the band. Finally, on May 20, 1891, Edison was able to unveil a peep-hole viewing machine.[7] Participants in a convention of the National Federation of Women's Clubs were brought to the Edison laboratory, where they saw "the picture of a man. It was a most marvellous picture. It bowed and smiled and waved its hands and took off its hat with the most perfect naturalness and grace. Every motion was perfect."[8] The man was Dickson. Several additional subjects were taken at this time, including a boxing scene, a full-figure view of a juggler, and a close view of a man with a pipe.[9] All were shot against black backgrounds; in the last two, the subjects faced the camera. That June, Dickson and Edison lawyers began to prepare three patent applications for a motion picture camera (the kinetograph) and a peep-hole viewing device (the kinetoscope). Finally submitted on August 24th to the U.S. Patent Office, these applications


initiated a series of legal maneuvers that were to continue for more than twenty years.

Edison and Dickson developed their vertical-feed, 1½-inch (approximately 35mm) motion picture camera during the summer of 1892. Firm evidence of this appeared in October, when frames of motion picture subjects were published in the Phonogram , a trade journal for the phonograph industry.[10] Two scenes, of men fencing and boxing, owed much to the subject choices and representational methods evident in Muybridge's serial photography. Another begins with William Heise standing alone in the frame. W. K. L. Dickson enters from behind the camera and shakes hands as both men face an imagined audience. This documentation of celebration and authorship marked the successful completion of Edison's search for a worthwhile motion picture system. These films, while not for commercial exhibition, embodied characteristics that would remain important in the years ahead. The isolation of actions and figures against a black background and the subjects' open acknowledgment of the camera retained the presentational elements evident in earlier experiments. Everyone in front of the camera was male, congruent with the homosocial world of the laboratory. In many instances, laboratory personnel acted as subjects. This approach continued for later experimental films, notably Dickson Experimental Sound Film (taken in late 1894 or early 1895). For this, Dickson played the violin into a phonograph funnel while two male employees danced with each other.


Construction of a motion picture studio began at Edison's West Orange laboratory in December 1892. The inventor and his secretary, Alfred O. Tate, were making commercial arrangements for the invention's exploitation at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and production facilities were essential. The studio, which became known as the Black Maria, after the black paddy wagons it was said to resemble, was completed the following February at a cost of $637.67.[11] It was approximately fifty feet long and thirteen feet wide. A stage was at one end "entirely lined with black tar paper, giving the effect of a dead black tunnel behind the subject being photographed."[12] The studio rotated on a graphite center and tracks so that sunlight could fall directly on the performers.

The shift from experimental to commercial filmmaking involved many continuities. Blacksmith Scene , one of the first motion pictures shot in the new studio, illustrates this. The earliest Edison film to have a commercial life, it was taken before May 1893 by Dickson and Heise. As this suggests, the people immediately responsible for inventing the hardware remained in charge of the kinetograph during this new phase. Characteristically, Edison declined to shift personnel when moving from the phase of invention to that of commercial exploitation. Moreover, the collaborative approach to invention (i.e., Edison-



A Hand-Shake (1892). Dickson and Heise 
congratulate each other on their invention.



The Black Maria studio (March 1894).

Dickson and Dickson-Heise) was continued as part of the production process. Other continuities are likewise striking: the black backgrounds and the frontal organizations of the mise-en-scène.

Blacksmith Scene depicted a blacksmith and his two helpers hammering an iron forging on the anvil, stopping to pass around a bottle of beer, and then resuming their labors. Although it reworked a subject previously photographed by Muybridge, the activity had become much more elaborate. Edison personnel constructed a fictional workspace within their workspace. Charles Kayser appears to be playing the role of the blacksmith, and the two others are almost certainly Edison employees. The world of the laboratory was transfigured in the blacksmith's shop. A conscious element of play was undoubtedly operating, for the crude smithy contrasted markedly with Edison's sophisticated machine shop. Yet there seem to have been important parallels. The fictionalized workspace has someone "in charge," the head blacksmith; but lines of authority are attenuated by egalitarianism and informality. Work, pleasure, and socializing are interwoven. In terms of American work culture, this scene already presents a nostalgic view, for, as Roy Rosenzweig has remarked, by the late nineteenth century, work and socializing were increasingly separated, with workplace drinking considered part of a bygone era.[13] Nevertheless, this film conveys the interpenetration of work and leisure characteristic of the Edison laboratory environment. The very making of the film seems to have been such an effort. Employees put aside serious undertakings to assume the roles of blacksmiths. If they were expected to work long hours and produce results, discipline was lax



Blacksmith Scene (1893). Work and pleasure are intermixed.

and responsibilities were often loosely defined. The informal lines of authority are also evident in the way that W. K. L. Dickson, the man most responsible for the film, copyrighted the subject even though the films and materials were owned by Edison.[14] Edison was not seeking to conduct an efficient workplace but to establish an environment where creativity could flourish.

Blacksmith Scene served as the centerpiece for the first public demonstration of Edison's new l½-inch system, at the Brooklyn Institute on May 9, 1893 (see document no. 1). Conducted by George M. Hopkins, president of the institute's Department of Physics, this presentation was remarkable in that it took the form of an illustrated lecture. To explain the principles on which the kinetograph and kinetoscope were based, Hopkins used a magic lantern to project a series of images from a choreutoscope (created in 1866), which created a dancing skeleton. Projected moving images from an instrument similar to Muybridge's zoöpraxiscope were also shown. Edison and Dickson's accomplishments were carefully situated in the general context of efforts being made in "chronophotography." The superior results of their efforts were carefully noted.

Selected frames of Blacksmith Scene were then projected onto the screen one frame at a time for inspection by the audience of approximately four hundred scientific people. Hopkins emphasized that the kinetoscope in its complete form was a machine for projecting images on the screen with recorded synchronous



The interior stage area of the Black Maria. Some 
of the personnel appeared in Blacksmith Scene.

sound. Journal formats aside, the first public presentation of modern motion picture frames was done on this screen. Only at the evening's conclusion did those present file by a peep-hole kinetoscope and peer into the machine. With each peep taking half a minute, the last part of the evening lasted more than three hours.


First Public Exhibition of Edison's Kinetograph.

At the regular monthly meeting of the Department of Physics of the Brooklyn Institute, May 9, the members were enabled, through the courtesy of Mr. Edison, to examine the new instrument known as the kinetograph [sic , i.e., kinetoscope]. The instrument in its complete form consists of an optical lantern, a mechanical device by which a moving image is projected on the screen simultaneously with the production by a phonograph of the words or song which accompany the movements pictured. For example, the photograph of a prima donna would be shown on the screen, with the movements of the lips, the head, and the body, to-

(Text box continued on next page)


gether with the changes of facial expression, while the phonograph would produce the song; but to arrange this apparatus for exhibition for a single evening was impracticable. Therefore, a small instrument designed for individual observation, and which simply shows the movements without the accompanying words, was shown to the members and their friends who were present.

Mr. George M. Hopkins, president of the department, before proceeding to the exhibition of the instrument offered a brief explanation, in which he said: "This apparatus is the refinement of Plateau's phenakistoscope or the zootrope, and like everything Mr. Edison undertakes, it is carried to great perfection. The principle can be readily understood by anyone who has ever examined the instrument I have mentioned. Persistence of vision is depended upon to blend the successive images into one continuous ever-changing photographic picture.

"In addition to Plateau's experiments, I might refer to the work accomplished by Muybridge and Anschuetz, who very successfully photographed animals in motion, and to Demeny, who produced an instrument called the phonoscope, which gave the facial expression while words were being spoken, so that deaf and dumb people could readily understand. But these instruments, having but twenty-five or thirty pictures for each subject, could not be made to blend the different movements sufficiently to make the image appear like a continuous photograph of moving things; the change from one picture to the next was abrupt and not realistic. In Mr. Edison's machine far more perfect results are secured. The fundamental feature in his experiments is the camera, by means of which the pictures are taken. This camera starts, moves, and stops the sensitive strip which receives the photographic image forty-six times a second, and the exposure of the plate takes place in one-eighth [sic ] of this time or in about one fifty-seventh of a second. The lens for producing these pictures was made to order at an enormous expense, and every detail at this end of the experiment was carefully looked after. There are 700 impressions on each strip, and when these pictures are shown in succession in the kinetograph the light is intercepted 700 times during one revolution of the strip. The duration of each image is one-ninety-second of a second, and the entire strip passes through the instrument in about thirty seconds. In the kinetograph each image dwells upon the retina until it is replaced by the succeeding one, and the difference between any picture and the succeeding one or preceding one is so slight as to render it impossible to observe the intermittent character of the picture. To explain in a very imperfect way the manner in which the photographs are produced, I will present the familiar dancing skeleton on the screen. You will notice that the image appears to be continuous, but the eye fails to notice the cutting

(Text box continued on next page)


off of the light, and the image simply appears to change its position without being at all intermittent; but when the instrument is turned slowly, you will notice that the period of eclipse is much longer than the period of illumination. The photographs on the kinetograph strip were taken in some such way as this. I will exhibit an ordinary zootrope adapted to the lantern, which shows the principle of the kinetograph. In this instrument, a disk having a radial slit is revolved rapidly in front of a disk bearing a series of images in different positions, which are arranged radially. The relative speeds of these disks are such that when they are revolved in the lantern the radial slit causes the images to be seen in regular succession, so that they replace each other and appear to really be in motion; but this instrument, as compared with the kinetograph, is a very crude affair."

After projecting upon the screen a few sections of the kinetograph strip, the audience—which consisted of more than 400 scientific people— was allowed to pass by the instrument, each person taking a view of the moving picture, which averaged for each person about half a minute. The picture represented a blacksmith and two helpers forging a piece of iron. Before beginning the job a bottle was passed from one to the other, each imbibing his portion. The blacksmith then removed his white hot iron from the forge with a pair of tongs and gave directions to his helpers with the small hand hammer, when they immediately began to pound the hot iron while the sparks flew in all directions, the blacksmith at the same time making intermediate strokes with his hand hammer. At a signal from the smith, the helpers put down their sledge hammers, when the iron was returned to the forge and another piece substituted for it, and the operation was repeated.

In the picture exhibited in the kinetograph, every movement appeared perfectly smooth and natural, without any of the jerkiness seen in instruments of the zootrope type which have heretofore been exhibited.

The machine in this case was not accompanied by the phonograph, but nevertheless the exhibition was one of great interest. The kinetograph in this form is designed as a "nickel in the slot" machine, and a number of them have been made for use at the Columbian Exhibition at Chicago.

SOURCE : Scientific American , May 20, 1893, p. 310.

The Black Maria was rarely used for production during 1893, as the refinement of Edison's motion picture system and the manufacture of kinetoscopes experienced delays. W. K. L. Dickson suffered from nervous exhaustion and was absent from the laboratory between early February and late April 1893. Although this accounts for some of the slowdown, the recession of 1893 may have further impeded this project, as Edison devoted his hard-pressed finances and time to iron ore milling. A new model kinetoscope for films taken with the


vertical-feed kinetograph was probably not available until shortly before the Brooklyn Institute demonstration in May. A contract for the manufacture of twenty-five machines based on this prototype was only drawn in late June. Gordon Hendricks indicates that it was given to an Edison employee who had difficulty staying sober. As a result, the machines were not completed until March 1894. Only the prototype was available for exhibition at the Chicago exposition, and this proved too valuable to send.[15]

Initial Film Production

The imminent completion of the kinetoscopes spurred the Edison group into serious film production. Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (© 9 January 1894) was a short film made for publicity purposes during the first week of January 1894.[16] By the beginning of March, Dickson and assistant William Heise had shot The Barbershop and Amateur Gymnast , both full-length subjects. As with most films made during the coming year, these were slightly less than fifty feet long, shot at approximately forty frames per second, and lasted less than twenty seconds. Like Blacksmith Scene, The Barbershop depicts a homosocial environment where easy comradery is routine. A customer receives a "lightning shave" for five cents—the cost of seeing the film. Since the shave and the viewing of the film take the same amount of time, the subject would seem to gently rib the film spectator, who has been quickly separated from his money. Yet the depiction of a complete shaving cycle highlights the work process (the barber's) and treats the barbershop as both a workplace and a place of leisure.

Amateur Gymnast shows a young man performing a somersault: it was probably one of several films taken of members of the Newark Turnverein, a nearby athletic club. Others show two men on parallel bars and a brief boxing match.[17] These may have been rehearsals for the kinetograph's first famous visitor, the strongman Eugene Sandow. On March 6th Sandow came to the Edison laboratory accompanied by the management of Koster & Bial's, the music hall where he was then performing. For the kinetograph, Sandow stripped to a loincloth and assumed an array of positions that showed off his muscular physique. In cinematography as in photography, Dickson had a well-trained eye. His camera framed Sandow just above the knees. Against the black background, the strongman's physique captured the complete attention of his audience.

Making Sandow and other films for this new type of commercial amusement fit easily into the laboratory environment. Although Sandow demanded a $250 fee to pose in the Black Maria unless he could meet Wizard Edison himself, this stipulation was probably unnecessary. Edison, an aficionado of variety entertainment, was delighted to meet the performer. Using a still camera next to the kinetograph, Dickson took several photographs: one caught "Mr. Edison feeling Sandow's muscles with a curiously comical expression on his face."[18] To entertain the inventor, the strongman playfully tossed one of his entourage out the



Amateur Gymnast (1894).

window. The kinetograph added a dash of levity to the laboratory milieu, burdened by discouraging, money-losing efforts in other areas.

The films taken through early March were of men, by men, and principally for men. But this quickly changed. During the second week of that month, the dancer Carmencita pirouetted for the kinetograph—her dress twirling and rising as high as her knees. As the New York Times proclaimed, "the vigor, dash, and sinuous movements of Carmencita herself, having long since defied imitation or improvement, were still indefinable and unique."[19] Unfortunately, the few surviving frames of Carmencita fail even to hint at the reasons for her reputation. Her rise to stardom occurred under Koster & Bial management at their old music hall on Twenty-third Street. There she attracted unprecedented accolades from critics at all the city newspapers. Whatever her actual abilities, like Edison, she was a larger-than-life creation of the mass circulation dailies.[20] She was soon followed by the female contortionist Mme. Ena Bertoldi, then appearing at Koster & Bial's. Both subjects were meant to appeal to male voyeurs who would soon be peeping into Edison's latest novelty. They were films of women, by men and primarily for men. Sandow, Carmencita, and Bertoldi—all headline attractions—were the first of many variety and vaudeville performers to visit the Black Maria over the ensuing year. The most frequent visitor proved to be Carmencita's chief rival, Annabelle Whitford, who performed her Serpentine,



Eugene Sandow.

Sun, and Butterfly dances on numerous occasions between 1894 and 1897. The billowing gauze of her attire was not only sexually evocative but encouraged hand-coloring effects that transcended a strictly masculine appeal. (Hand-coloring work was usually contracted out to the wives of Edison employees, notably the wife of Edmund Kuhn.) However, a large array of dancers came to perform their specialty, including Ruth Dennis (later Ruth St. Denis), who was promoted as "the Champion High Kicker of the World."[21]

These early films functioned within the homosocial amusement world. Cock Fight , shot in early March, was an extremely popular subject, for which new negatives would often have to be made. Filmed as a close view, the intimate depiction of this brutal sport was enhanced by the roosters' rapid movements and flying feathers. Its success generated similar types of subjects.

Through a New York professional rat catcher, Mr. Dickson secured a large cage full of dock rats and he has had at the laboratory for some time two pretty little full-brooded rat terriers. It was an extremely difficult task to arrange the ring, which on account of the limitations of the kinetograph could be only four feet square. The first




contest was with six rats turned loose in the pit at once, and in fifty-two and one-half seconds all had been killed by one of the terriers. A second and a third trial were made with equally good results.[22]

Rat Catcher , the result of this undertaking, was ultimately considered "not good, the rats being too small."[23]

Additional vignettes of masculine daily life also continued to be made. By early April, Dickson had shot Horse Shoeing , a simple variation of Blacksmith Scene . This highly specialized "genre" also included A Bar Room Scene , taken later that spring. Another male-dominated space is depicted, although the emphasis has now clearly shifted toward a distinct leisure realm—from passing the beer bottle in a work context to the saloon. In fact, such all-male environments would frequently support nickel-in-the-slot kinetoscopes in the years ahead. Yet for the first time homosocial space is viewed somewhat critically. Socializing takes the form of a political argument that ends in a fight and requires police intervention. This less than flattering depiction of a saloon suggests a disturbance in the choice and depiction of subjects, a desire to meet the demands (real or imagined) of actual spectators.

The commercial debut of the kinetoscope occurred in mid April with the opening of the first kinetoscope parlor in midtown Manhattan. With a peek costing 5¢ and most patrons expected to see a series of five scenes, viewers had to have disposable income. Most were middle class. At its fashionable location, the kinetoscope drew female as well as male patrons. The masculine appeal needed to be tempered, if not effaced. Three films used for this opening were appropriately desexualized: Highland Dance , showing "A 'Lad' and a 'Lassie' in



A Bar Room Scene.

full costume,"[24]Organ Grinder , and Trained Bears . "The bears were divided between surly discontent and a comfortable desire to follow the bent of their own inclinations," Dickson later reported. "It was only after much persuasion that they could be induced to subserve the interests of science."[25] Made to perform elaborate tricks, the animals evidenced man's mastery of nature while still holding out the potential for violence. Correspondingly, Organ Grinder offered a reassuring picture of a happy, harmless Italian street musician, although the perceived threat of the Italian immigrant could not be totally eliminated. Other films made by early summer—for example, The Boxing Cats, The Wrestling Dog , and Glenroy Brothers (a comic boxing routine)—reversed this tension, displaying physical violence induced in the most domesticated of subjects.[26] These subjects parodied and softened the sporting world's manly preoccupations without in any way criticizing them.

These "non-offensive" subjects not only added to the diversity of available images but became essential when the more provocative selections encountered opposition. That summer, for instance, dancing girl subjects were censored by moralistic officials in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Told to close shop or use more



The first kinetoscope parlor at 1155 Broadway, New York City.

acceptable "views," the local exhibitor acquired a print of The Boxing Cats .[27] Such comparatively tame views, however, were not the most popular. The kinetoscope gave women a more enticing opportunity: to glimpse the half-hidden male-oriented world of cock fights and risqué women from which they were ordinarily excluded. It encouraged a distinctly feminine voyeurism (in some instances complicated by a narcissistic identification with the women on display), a counterpoint to that motivated by masculine desire. Yet despite the various possible subject positions, every film drew from the world of popular amusement. Sex or violence was at the core of almost every image.

Exploitation of the Kinetoscope

Edison shifted the manufacture and sale of kinetoscopes and films from his laboratory accounts to the Edison Manufacturing Company, which he completely owned, on April 1, 1894. Expenses incurred to that date—for the development of his motion picture system, the building of a photographic building and the Black Maria, the manufacture of twenty-five kinetoscopes, and the taking of various films—totaled $24,118.[28] Henceforth and for the next eighteen years, the Kinetograph Department at the Edison Company (as it was commonly called) was responsible for the inventor's motion picture business. As this new enterprise was starting up, Thomas Edison hired William Gilmore as vice-president and general manager of this and other Edison companies. Gilmore also commenced April 1st, replacing Tate as the Wizard's business chief.

Edison relied on three different groups to market kinetoscopes and films. The first and most prominent was a consortium that included Edison's former sec-


retary and business manager Alfred O. Tate, phonograph executives Thomas Lombard and Erastus Benson, Norman C. Raft, Frank R. Gammon, and Andrew Holland.[29] Through Tate, they had a long-standing order for the first twenty-five kinetoscopes. As soon as these were completed, ten machines were immediately installed at 1155 Broadway, near Herald Square in New York City, where the kinetoscope had its commercial debut on April 14th. A Chicago kinetoscope parlor, using another ten machines, opened in mid May, while the remaining five had a San Francisco premiere at Peter Bacigalupi's phonograph parlor on June 1st.[30] During one thirteen-day period in late June and early July, the San Francisco parlor brought in $961.20 against $249.60 in expenses (including the month's rent of $175).[31] Similar openings followed in other American cities, with consortium members either exhibiting in lucrative territories or making special arrangements with businesses like the Columbia Phonograph Company, which exhibited the machines in Atlantic City and Asbury Park, New Jersey, and later in Washington, D.C. In August the Holland Brothers opened a kinetoscope parlor in Boston and hired James H. White to assist them. White was soon helping them fit up new arcades with the nickel-in-the-slot machines. Among other undertakings, White and fellow employee Charles H. Webster "installed a plant of kinetoscopes in the Flower Show at the Grand Central Palace, New York City."[32] After this four-week November show, the duo bought the machines, and for the next ten months they traveled to different cities exhibiting films.

Edison initially sold kinetoscopes and films on a first-come, first-served basis.[33] Customers included Thomas L. Tally, then based in Waco, Texas, and William Gilmore's brother-in-law, William H. Markgraf. The disorganization that resulted soon forced Edison to rethink this laissez-faire marketing approach. In mid August, he assigned exclusive responsibility for selling regular kinetoscopes within the United States and Canada to the original consortium with Norman Raft and Frank Gammon acting as its principal agents. Through the newly formed Kinetoscope Company they agreed to purchase approximately ten kinetoscopes a week from Edison for $200 a machine. These machines were in turn sold for as much as $350, with discounts of $25 per machine when several machines were purchased. (Sales to consortium members, however, remained at $200 or $225 per kinetoscope.) This contractual agreement could continue in effect for as much as three years.[34]

From its early contacts with customers, the Edison Company developed relations with two other groups that subsequently assumed major roles in marketing its machines. One began its activities in May when Otway Latham, a manager for the Tilden Company, a pharmaceutical firm, ordered a group of kinetoscopes. Joined by his brother Gray Latham, his father Woodville Latham, and Enoch Rector, a fellow Tilden employee, Otway arranged with Edison to show films of prize fights by expanding the kinetoscope's capacity to 150 feet


and reducing the camera and projection speed to 30 frames per second. The increased running time of slightly more than a minute enabled them to show abbreviated rounds. Their enterprise, which eventually became the Kinetoscope Exhibition Company, commenced its exhibition activities in late August.[35] Franck Z. Maguire and Joseph D. Baucus, heading the other group, made their first purchase in mid July.[36] By September they had incorporated the Continental Commerce Company and acquired the exclusive rights to sell and exhibit the kinetoscope overseas—so long as they worked the territory to Edison's

Table 1 .
Purchases by Edison's Principal Kinetoscope Agents

(Rounded off to the nearest dollar)


Kinetoscope Co. Raft & Gammon

Lathams Kinetoscope Exhibition Co.

Maguire & Baucus Continental Commerce Co.

May 1894
































Jan. 1895













Mar. 1895






















































satisfaction.[37] They were expected to dispose of thirteen machines a week for six months and eight machines a week thereafter.

For the business term from April 1894 through February 1895, the Edison Manufacturing Company had kinetoscope sales of $149,549, film sales of $25,882, and "kinetoscope sundries" sales of $2,416. With motion picture sales totaling $177,847, the three groups were responsible for at least $143,620 or approximately 80 percent of Edison's film-related activities during this period.[38] Corresponding profits totaled $85,338. Although their sales were substantial for the next few months, the companies' purchases slumped badly during the summer of 1895 and never recovered. Their activities were responsible for almost all of Edison's motion picture sales for the 1895-96 business year, when total profits for Edison's film-related business fell to $4,141.

Edison Company expenses included substantial fees for W. K. L. Dickson and William Heise in recognition of their important contributions to the development of Edison's motion picture inventions. Dickson received at least $3,150 and Heise at least $850 between August 1894 and February 1895. Dickson continued to receive about $100 and Heise about $40 a week until the end of November 1895. These substantial sums may have been in addition to their regular salaries.[39] The cost of film stock was not assumed by the Edison Company until July 1894 and totaled more than $6,000 by March 1, 1895.[40] Raw stock purchases amounted to $8,460 for the following business year, with their size falling during the summer and increasing again during the winter. Almost all stock was purchased from the Blair Camera Company; contrary to received opinion, none of it came from George Eastman's company. After having shouldered the financial burden for taking the early subjects, Edison (perhaps with Gilmore's urging) shifted these costs to the three groups responsible for commercial exploitation. Each financed its own subjects, which it alone could use unless proper arrangements were made among the various groups. Both Raft & Gammon and Maguire & Baucus indicated their ownership by including small signs with their initials—R (Raft & Gammon), MB (Maguire & Baucus), and C (Continental Commerce Company)—within the scenes being photographed.

Continued Film Production

The first subject for the Latham-Rector enterprise was a six-round fight between Michael Leonard and Jack Cushing, filmed by Dickson and Heise in the Black Maria on June 15th.[41] A film of men made by men, The Leonard-Cushing Fight was meant to appeal to the sporting crowd. Again work responsibilities were forgotten as Thomas Edison happily acted as master of ceremonies and supervised the fistic proceedings. His interest was hardly dispassionate, for he found himself mimicking the boxers' thrusts as the fight intensified. When the legality of the fight under New Jersey law was questioned, Edison's role in the


proceedings had to be suppressed. Perhaps this, as much as the time needed for the production of large-capacity kinetoscopes, explains why the Kinetoscope Exhibition Company's storefront arcade on Nassau Street did not open with these films until mid August.

The fruition of Otway Latham's efforts yielded new financing from Samuel J. Tilden, Jr., enabling the group to order seventy-two additional kinetoscopes at $300 a machine.[42] Arrangements were then made for the heavyweight champion James Corbett to fight the New Jersey pugilist Peter Courtney. If he could knock out Courtney in the sixth round, the champion was guaranteed $5,000 against a weekly exhibition fee of $150 (later reduced to $50) for each set of machines on exhibition.[43] On Friday morning, September 7th, four days after Corbett's play Gentleman Jack began a Broadway run, the champion arrived in Orange with his entourage.[44] In the meantime,

Over at the Black Maria, which has been fully described in The Sun , several attendants were busy fixing the kinetograph, so that there might be no slips or mistakes in photographing the impending struggle. The Maria, as the building in which Edison's wonderful machine is located is called, reminded everybody of a huge coffin. It was covered with black tar paper, secured to the woodwork by big metal-topped nails, and was the most dismal-looking affair the sports had ever seen. Inside the walls were painted black, and there wasn't a window of any description, barring a little slide which was directly beside the kinetograph and could be opened or closed at the will of the operator. Half of the roof, however, could be raised or lowered like a drawbridge by means of ropes, pulleys and weights so that the sunlight could strike squarely on the space before the machine.

The ring was 14 feet square. It was roped on two sides, the other two being the heavily padded walls of the building. The floor was planed smooth and covered with rosin. All battles decided in this arena must be fought under a special set of rules. A round lasts a little over one minute, with a rest of a minute and a half to two minutes between the rounds. Consequently, the smallness of the ring and the shortness of the rounds necessitate hot fighting all the time.[45]

At 11 o'clock the prize fighters prepared for the ring, but they were delayed another thirty minutes by a technical problem with the kinetograph.

At 11:45 o'clock everything was ready. The men were first requested to pose in fighting attitudes for an ordinary photograph. Then the chief operator told them to get ready for the fight. John P. Eckhardt of this city was referee and W. A. Brady held the watch. In Corbett's corner were his seconds John McVey and Frank Belcher, with Bud Woodthorpe, bottle holder. In Courtney's corner were John Tracey and Edward Allen, seconds, and Sam Lash, bottle holder. Corbett weighed 195 pounds, he said, and Courtney 190. The men were ordered to shake hands and received instructions as to clinching. Then they went to their corners and waited for the signal to begin the battle. The operators were all ready now, and when the word was given the kinetograph began to buzz.[46]



James Corbett and Peter Courtney pose in the Black Maria before their fight.

Corbett succeeded in knocking out Courtney in the sixth round, and Corbett and Courtney Before the Kinetograph (also known as The Corbett-Courtney Fight ) went on to be a nationwide success. It was shown at Thomas L. Tally's Phonograph and Kinetoscope Parlor at 311 South Spring Street in Los Angeles and in many other large-capacity kinetoscopes across the country. Corbett's contract, however, absorbed much of the profit, and it seems likely that Tilden ultimately lost money on the deal. Moreover, opposition to prize fighting made it difficult to generate additional projects in the months ahead.

After Raft & Gammon and Maguire & Baucus assumed the costs of, and increased responsibility for, making new negatives in September, the same types of subjects continued to be produced. The Kinetoscope Company paid Hornbacker and Murphy to fight a "five round glove contest to a finish" in late September. Each round, however, was limited to fifty feet of film. The


Englehardt Sisters fenced for the kinetograph with both broadswords and foils (Lady Fencers ). Pedro Esquirel and Dionecio Gonzales performed a Mexican knife duel. In January 1895, with variations on the obvious exhausted, Capt. Duncan C. Ross and Lieut. Hartung fought with broadswords on horseback in the five-round Gladiatorial Combat .[47]

Dancers, contortionists, acrobats, and novelty acts also continued to visit the Black Maria from September of 1894 through the following spring. Professor Ivan Tschernoff with his performing dogs, then at Koster & Bial's, appeared in Skirt Dog Dance and Summersault Dog on October 17th. The following day, Toyou Kichi, "the Marvellous and Artistic Japanese Twirler and Juggler," gave a performance for the kinetograph.[48] Robetta and Doreto, who performed their comic routine "Heap Fun Laundry" at the close of Tony Pastor's vaudeville bill for a week beginning on November 26th, also brought their act out to the Edison laboratory (Chinese Laundry Scene ).

With the kinetoscope "one of the recognized sights of the town,"[49] performers and amusement entrepreneurs quickly concluded that moving pictures were good publicity and could help their careers. Prof. Harry Welton's Cat Circus was one of several acts that showed improved bookings subsequent to its appearance in the kinetoscope.[50] The manager for James Hoey's upcoming farce announced a new advertising scheme: "Edison's kinetoscope and phonograph are to be combined in a reproduction of the principal spectacular and vocal feature of the new performance, the instrument to be publicly exhibited in the principal cities weeks prior to the play's appearance."[51] Such a response from the public and the theatrical community enabled kinetograph production to continue drawing from diverse elements of the amusement world.

During the fall, various performers from Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, then at the peak of its popularity, came out to the Edison laboratory.[52] Buffalo Bill, his manager, and a group of Indians traveled from Ambrose park in Brooklyn to appear in a series of films on September 24th. These included Buffalo Bill, Sioux Ghost Dance, Buffalo Dance , and Indian War Council . This last film consisted of "seventeen different persons" and showed Buffalo Bill addressing the Indian warriors.[53] A small group of Mexicans appeared two weeks later to perform their specialty: the knife duel and lasso throwing.[54] On October 16th, rodeo star Lee Martin rode a bucking bronco in a makeshift corral outside the Black Maria (Bucking Broncho ).[55] Finally, on November 1st, Annie Oakley demonstrated her rifle-shooting abilities (Annie Oakley ).[56]

Performers giving specialties in regular New York-based theatrical companies flocked to the West Orange site. On October 6th, Charles Walton and John C. Slavin, from Edward E. Rice's comic opera 1492, executed their comic boxing routine. That same day Lucy Daly's Pickaninnies of The Passing Show tumbled and danced—providing motion pictures with their first images of African Americans. A somewhat later visitor, James Grundy, appearing in The South Before the War , executed a cake walk, buck and wing dance, and breakdown.



Band Drill and Bucking Broncho. The R at the bottom left of the frame stands for Raft & Gammon.

The Grundy films were then marketed as "the best negro subjects yet taken and are amusing and entertaining."[57] Bertha Waring and John W. Wilson, eccentric dancers from the musical burlesque Little Christopher Columbus , and the Jamies from Rob Roy added to this long list.

Two of the most ambitious studio productions were taken in December 1894. Early that month members of the Milk White Flag company presented the camera with five abbreviated scenes from Charles Hoyt's successful song-and-dance farce. The musical satirizes the part-time citizen-soldiers whose "commanderies" served a purely social function. Its many musical and dance numbers were perfect for the kinetoscope. One filmed excerpt, Finale of 1st Act of Hoyt's "Milk White Flag, " had "34 Persons in Costume. The largest number ever shown as one subject in the Kinetoscope."[58] Perhaps the single most ambitious subject of this period was Fire Rescue Scene , made for Raff & Gammon. Filmed inside the Black Maria, the production involved elaborate smoke effects and the assistance of a local fire department. The film can be considered an innovative extension of workplace films like Blacksmith Scene . Certainly, fire-men embodied nineteenth-century manly virtues (courage, strength, etc.), and local fire departments served as centers for many male leisure activities. The homosocial worlds of fire fighting and film production easily converged; they would do so again with much frequency in the years ahead.

Kinetograph activities slowed during the winter months and were then seriously disrupted in April of 1895, when Dickson left Edison's employ. Although this break may have occurred as early as April 2d, it was not made public until late in the month.[59] Dickson's position had become untenable. He had been fighting with Gilmore for control over the motion picture business and for primacy in the inventor's affections. At the same time he was helping two aspiring competitors (the Lathams and the founders of the American Mutoscope Company) develop their own independent motion picture technology. His de-



Fire Rescue Scene.

parture left William Heise responsible for Edison's motion picture business and ended the easy, long-standing collaborative relationship that had produced these films. In the wake of Dickson's departure, Heise proceeded with a handful of additional subjects, perhaps assisted by John Ott. When Barnum and Bailey's Circus stopped in Orange on May 9th, he kinetographed various members of the troupe in the Black Maria before their afternoon performance. Made for the Continental Commerce Company (the circus was soon going to Europe), scenes showed natives of India (Short Stick Dance ), Samoan Islanders (Dance of Rejoicing ), a renowned strongman (Professor Attilla ), and an Egyptian dancer (Princess Ali ).[60]

By mid June, Edison personnel had taken four scenes from Trilby: Death Scene, Dance Scene, Hypnotic Scene , and Trilby Quartette. Trilby , the theatrical adaptation of George du Maurier's novel, opened at the Garden Theatre on April 15th and was proclaimed "an instant and deserved success, which swelled at times to the proportions of a triumph."[61] Even before the opening, however, others were quickly presenting excerpts.[62] Although the actor playing the hypnotist Svengali visited the Edison laboratory in May 1896, it is unlikely that members of the cast did so when the show opened. Moreover, the death scene was buriesqued, suggesting the performance of a renegade group. The Edison-group had ranged freely through various forms of popular amusement to ac-


quire subjects for their productions. Yet they had not moved outside these well-defined boundaries to make actualities or, with a handful of exceptions, their own original scenes. By spring this lack of diversity, as well as the relatively high cost spectators had to pay to peep, led to declining public interest.

Edison's motion picture business faced slackening demand and other difficulties by the spring and summer of 1895. This decline can be illustrated by an incident that occurred in Asbury Park, New Jersey. For the summer season, six kinetoscopes with The Corbett-Courtney Fight were set up inside a building rented from the Asbury Park Amusement Company. This was the second year of kinetoscope exhibitions at the summer resort, but the success of the first season was not repeated. As a local newspaper explained in early August, "The kinetoscopes, although they give wonderful entertainment for those who like that sort of thing, do not seem to have been profitable thus far this summer."[63] Unable to pay the rent, the kinetoscope manager and some cohorts crept into the hall and started to remove the machines under cover of darkness. A night watchman discovered them, called the police, and warned the landlord. In the confrontation that followed the manager was outnumbered and was forced to abandon the attempted removal. The next day a distress warrant was issued turning the machines over to the local amusement company until proper payment was received.[64]

The manager's inability to meet expenses was perhaps not so unusual and symbolizes the wider problems facing kinetoscope entrepreneurs. Overseas, Maguire & Baucus faced serious competition. In London, Robert Paul was making duplicate kinetoscopes and his own original films. Paul's activities, moreover, were safe from legal action, since Edison had failed to take out foreign patents on his motion picture inventions. This severely reduced Edison's potential foreign sales. Domestic imitators also appeared, reducing sales and the price tag within the American market.[65] When the Lathams began to exhibit their crude eidoloscope projector in April 1895, this, too, deflected interest away from Edison's machine.[66] With the urging of Raft & Gammon, Edison began to experiment with projection. According to Terry Ramsaye, Edison sent experimenter Charles Kayser to the Kinetoscope Company's offices in New York, where he pursued these investigations. Nothing useful, however, materialized from these efforts.[67]

One serious effort to bolster the kinetoscope business was made in the spring of 1895: the kinetophone. A phonograph was placed inside a kinetoscope cabinet with rubber ear tubes protruding from a convenient location for the spectator. Recordings and films could then be loosely synchronized. The longstanding promise of a novelty that combined recorded sound and moving image was to be fulfilled. It was hoped that this would not only revive its novelty value but increase the range of available subjects. The local Orange Chronicle announced:



An unidentified phonograph parlor boasts a kinetoscope. By 1895 business had slowed.

With this combination wonderful possibilities are opened out before the public. An entire change will be made in the character of the objects and scenes taken by the kinetograph. Previously only scenes were taken in which there was a great variety of action, the element of sound being entirely disregarded. Hence such scenes as prize fights, skirt dances, clog dances and the like were taken. With the new combination, the eye and ear being both concerned, the range of subjects is largely increased, and many things that could not have been effectively taken under the principle of the kinetograph alone will now become available.[68]

This breakthrough was premature and no doubt forced by the onset of declining sales. Efforts to kinetograph and phonograph scenes simultaneously had been made, but without success (Dickson Experimental Sound Film and various illustrations testify to these attempts). Thus no new diversity of subject matter resulted. Rather, appropriate music was added to preexisting subjects. The Kineroscope Company announced, for example, that the kinetophone in its offices was featuring Finale of 1st Act of Hoyt's "Milk White Flag ": "as the band is



Looking at and listening to the kinetophone: a pastime that never became popular.

seen coming into view in the Kinetoscope, the music bursts forth with a volume and melody that is truly wonderful and realistic."[69]

The kinetophone was initially marketed in mid April for a cost of $400, $50 more than the kinetoscope. At least one was at Frank Harrison's parlor in Atlanta, Georgia, in May. Although he claimed that they increased business


threefold, Harrison had established a special arrangement with the Kinetoscope Company for the upcoming Cotton States' Exhibition, and his endorsement is hardly credible.[70] Within a short time, the price of the kinetoscope fell to $250 and the price of the kinetophone with it to $300. Demand for the kinetophone proved slight, only forty-five being sold.[71] Dickson's untimely departure from Edison must have harmed whatever slight prospects of success the kinetophone enterprise may have initially enjoyed.

As the kinetoscope and kinetophone novelties faded, Raft & Gammon faced fewer and fewer orders for its goods. Seeking to reverse this decline, they assigned employee Alfred Clark the responsibility for making new films. Clark, who looked after film production and sales for the Kinetoscope Company, tried to reorient and broaden the Edison Company's approach to production. That August and September he produced a group of motion picture subjects at the West Orange laboratory that were not tied to popular theatrical amusement, including several historical scenes based on well-known paintings or other iconography.[72]loan of Arc , which showed the French heroine being burned at the stake, and Rescue of Capt. John Smith by Pocahontas represented larger-than-life, semi-mythical moments. These films, which were taken outdoors, involved elaborate historical costuming. Only one survives, The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots .[73] Its tableau-like, static quality highlights the moment when the ax descends, cutting off the queen's head. In fact, this effect was achieved using stop-action substitution: the filming was halted, while the actor (Robert Thomae in female garb) was replaced by a dummy; then the action and filming resumed. The camera stop was later cleaned up by splicing the two takes together so that the film appeared to consist of one continuous shot. Other scenes, including Indian Scalping Scene and Frontier Scene (later retitled Lynching Scene ), indicate a curious penchant for the gore of murders and executions, subjects regularly depicted in wax at the Eden Musee's Chamber of Horrors.

Demand for Clark's innovative films was modest. In the following months, the handful of new productions returned to tried and true subjects: Umbrella Dance and Acrobatic Dance , featuring the Leigh Sisters; Cyclone Dance and Fan Dance , with the Spanish dancer Lola Yberri. The declining kinetoscope business most affected those people who depended on it for their livelihood and resulted in career changes. James White and Charles Webster sold their kinetoscopes in August, with White returning to the phonograph business.[74] Clark likewise sought more secure employment in the phonograph field, with Webster joining Raft & Gammon to take his place.[75] Late in the year, Raft & Gammon went for months without selling a single machine, and the partners considered selling or even liquidating their business. Then they came across a screen machine that was far superior to the Lathams'. It soon returned them to the forefront of motion picture activity in the United States and in the process revived film production at the Edison Manufacturing Company.


Cinema, a Screen Novelty: 1895-1897

The first commercially viable motion picture projector in the United States was known as "Edison's Vitascope." This successful adaptation of Edison's films to the magic lantern not only resuscitated kinetographic activities but brought Edwin Porter into the emerging film industry. Unlike the Lathams' eidoloscope, the vitascope had an intermittent action that halted each frame of film in front of the light source, providing the basis for modern motion picture projection. Despite its name, this "screen machine" was the invention of two young men from Washington, D.C., C. Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat, who originally called it the "phantoscope." The two inventors quarreled, however, shortly after their first commercial exhibitions at the Cotton States' Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia, during October 1895. Acting independently, each tried to maximize his claims and commercial opportunities. In early December, Armat arranged an exhibition for Frank Gammon in the basement of his Washington office.[1]

Raft & Gammon, discouraged over the future prospects of the peep-hole kinetoscope business, greeted Armat's machine like drowning men who had unexpectedly discovered a life raft. Nonetheless, a month of contract negotiations and delays followed the basement demonstration as they sought Edison's blessing for their use of Armat's machine. Edison's control over film production made the inventor's cooperation essential. William Gilmore, vice-president and general manager of the Edison Manufacturing Company, played a key role in these discussions. A hard-headed, if overly aggressive, businessman, Gilmore had little difficulty interpreting the Edison Company's discouraging balance sheets. The Wizard's motion picture business was doing poorly and was increasingly threatened by independent motion picture activities both domestically and overseas. Gilmore was familiar with the Lathams' eidoloscope and possibly


with the work of W. K. L. Dickson on the mutoscope (a peep-hole device similar to the kinetoscope). Rumors of the Lumières' film projections in Paris may also have reached the Orange office. Since Edison's half-hearted efforts to develop a projecting machine had been unsuccessful, the phantoscope posed yet another threat. But it was one that the Edison organization now had the opportunity to coopt. Gilmore was therefore predisposed to work with Raff &; Gammon. Such a move would not only bolster sales of hardware and film, but maintain a determining presence in the industry and give company machinists valuable experience with the workings of the new apparatus.

At a meeting on January 15, 1896, Raft & Gammon completed negotiations with Edison and Gilmore. The Edison Company would manufacture the vita-scope projectors from Armat's prototype and provide the necessary films. Delighted, Raft & Gammon sent a telegram to Armat announcing that the terms of this agreement were "exceedingly favorable for all. Contract will be signed and forwarded tomorrow."[2] This contract gave Raft &; Gammon "the sole and exclusive right to manufacture and rent or lease or otherwise handle (as may be agreed upon in this contract or by future agreement) in any and all countries of the world the aforesaid machine or device called the 'Phantoscope.' "[3] In exchange Armat received 25 percent of the gross receipts gained by the sale of exclusive exhibition rights for territories and 50 percent of the gross receipts (minus the cost of manufacture) for other areas of the business, particularly the rental of machines. Raff & Gammon gained the exclusive exhibition rights for New York City, while Armat retained the rights for Washington, D.C.[4] No mention was made of Jenkins in the contract: Armat represented himself as sole owner of the invention.[5]

In mid February 1896 the Armat machine was renamed the "vitascope," perhaps once Raft & Gammon belatedly recognized that Jenkins, who had coined the term "phantoscope," could disrupt their plans and become a potential competitor.[6] Certainly Jenkins had become an active threat by early March.[7] Under such circumstances, extensive publicity was considered essential to the vitascope's success. Raft suggested that "in order to secure the largest profit in the shortest time, it is necessary that we attach Mr. Edison's name in some prominent capacity to this new machine. While Mr. Edison has no desire to pose as the inventor of the machine, yet we think we can arrange with him for the use of his name and the name of his manufactory to such an extent as may be necessary to the best results. We should of course not misrepresent the facts to any inquirer, but we think we can use Mr. Edison's name in such a manner as to keep within the actual truth, and yet get the benefit of his prestige."[8] It was an arrangement that benefited everyone concerned. Raft & Gammon garnered the necessary publicity for their enterprise, while Edison kept his name before the public. Since people simply assumed that Edison must be the inventor, use of his name enhanced the legend of the Wizard's fecund genius. This "biographical legend" was another product of the inventor's "genius." Edison's image as


a mythic hero allowed him to acquire financing and manipulate legal and commercial situations in unprecedented ways.[9]

The desire to exploit Edison's name was compelling from a business viewpoint.[10] As Raft & Gammon told Armat: "No matter how good a machine should be invented by another, and no matter how satisfactory or superior the results of such a machine invented by another might be, yet, we find the great majority of parties who are interested, and who desire to invest in such a machine, have been waiting for the Edison machine, and would never be satisfied with anything else, but would hold off until they found what Edison could accomplish."[11] Armat acquiesced. To the public and prospective investors, the vitascope was to be the machine Edison had promised them when the Lathams unveiled their imperfect eidoloscope a year before.[12]

By late March the threat posed by rival machines from abroad had created an urgent situation. As Raft reported: "It becomes more apparent every day that we must take some action with regard to the European machine which is now being exhibited in London, and which we hear is creating a sensation there. If the reports we receive are true, the machine must be quite satisfactory, and we hear of the parties exhibiting the interior of a railway station, with train coming in and going, parties moving about, etc., etc. We also hear of other interesting subjects which they show."[13] The term "chestnuts," which referred to jokes or amusements that had lost their entertainment value through overuse, could be applied to the Edison subjects left over from the peep-show kinetoscope.[14] These would not compete effectively with novel scenes taken abroad. The need for fresh, new subjects had to be added to Raft & Gammon's list of concerns.

For the vitascope group, it was extremely important that their machine enter the entertainment field first. The significance of such a "first" was not one of legal/historical priority. Rather, with projected moving pictures regarded as a novelty, it was essential to be perceived as the first by the amusement-going public, a phenomenon that involved orchestrating one's publicity very carefully. Although moving pictures had been projected in some form within the United States for almost a year, no effort had quite achieved the necessary threshold of recognition. The organization that first achieved this goal would be hailed as the original and its competitors considered imitations. Thus, when Raft & Gammon heard that amusement enterprises in New York were contemplating the addition of the European machine to their shows, the entrepreneurs preempted these plans by quickly preparing for the vitascope at Koster & Bial's Music Hall, continuing a relationship with its management that had earlier provided the kinetograph with a bevy of star performers.

The Edison tie-in was maximally exploited. Several weeks before the Koster & Bial's debut, a press screening was arranged. Although the inventor had a private look at the vitascope on March 27th, this preview was staged at the Orange laboratory on April 3d. The "Wizard" not only attended but played the


role of inventor assigned to him. In successive headlines, the New York Journal announced:


In Gauzy Silks They Smirk and Pirouette at Wizard Edison's Command.
Perfect Reproduction of Noted Feminine Figures and Their Every Movement.


By it the Great Inventor Will Give Representations of Theatrical Performances with Faces and Forms In Every Detail.[15]

Like the hypnotist Svengali in Trilby , the inventor seemed to command every move and gesture produced by the dancing girls on the screen. They were his creations, objects of desire that he could manipulate to gratify the "bald head row" of older men who sat in the front of the orchestra, the better to eye the Music Hall's female performers. Other newspapers contributed additional accolades to the inventor's genius. Such ballyhoo created anticipation and diverted attention away from the work of the Lumières, the Lathams, and Jenkins.

The Vitaseope's Premiere

Raff & Gammon moved quickly forward with their first public exhibitions of Edison's vitascope. They sent Charles Webster to Europe with one screen machine on April 22d.[16] Only when he arrived in London and saw the Lumière cinématographe did it become fully evident that the vitascope would face insurmountable difficulties in foreign markets. To replace their absent employee, Raff & Gammon hired James White, Webster's former associate, in early April for $75 a month.[17] Arrangements were soon finalized for the Koster & Bial's premiere on April 23d. The fee was set at $800 per week, providing Raff & Gammon with a bountiful income during the ensuing four-month run.[18] Thomas Armat acted as moving picture operator (i.e., projectionist) for the first week, after which he was succeeded by his brother. White assumed overall responsibility for the Koster & Bial's showings.[19] Edwin Porter, while still in the navy, may have helped in his off hours to install the electrical system that ran the machine.[20] The opening night response was ecstatic. "WONDERFUL IS THE VI-TASCOPE," proclaimed the New York Herald .[21]The New York Times enthused:

The new thing at Koster and Bial's last night was Edison's vitascope, exhibited for the first time. The ingenious inventor's latest toy is a projection of his kinetoscope



Koster & Bial's Music Hall at the time of the vitascope premiere.

figures in stereopticon fashion, upon a white screen in a darkened hall. In the centre of the balcony of the big music hall is a curious object, which looks from below like the double turret of a big monitor. In the front of each half of it are two oblong holes. The turret is neatly covered with the blue velvet brocade which is the favorite decorative material of this house.[22]

The New York Daily News added:

On the stage, when it was ready to show the invention a big drop curtain was lowered. It had a huge picture frame painted in the center with its enclosed space



Interior of Koster & Bial's. The vitascopes are hidden within
 their turret-shaped housing in the second mezzanine.

white. The band struck up a lively air and from overhead could be heard a whirring noise that lasted for a few moments; then there flashed upon the screen the life-size figures of two dancing girls, who tripped and pirouetted and whirled an umbrella before them. The representation was realistic to a degree. The most trifling movements could be followed as accurately as if the dancers had been stepping before the audience in proper person. Even the waving undulations of their hair were plainly distinguishable. The gay coloring of the costumes was also effectively shown.[23]

Six films were shown, but only five were made by the Edison Company. The first to be projected was a tinted print of Umbrella Dance , with the Leigh sisters. Subsequent views included Walton and Slavin (a burlesque boxing bout from 1492), Finale of 1st Act of Hoyt's "Milk White Flag " (not listed on the programme), and The Monroe Doctrine . Made in preparation for the vitascope debut, The Monroe Doctrine offered a new type of subject matter, a comic allegory that was overtly political. Referring to a recent incident in South America, this political cartoon on film showed John Bull and Venezuela fighting. "Uncle Sam appears, separates the combatants and knocks John Bull down."[24] The patriotic audience was delighted and "cheers rang through the house, while somebody cried, 'Hurrah for Edison.' "[25] The final film was of a skirt or ser-



Rough Sea at Dover (1895), taken by R. W.
 Paul in England. The hit of opening night.

pentine dance. Although the dancer was blonde, none of the reviews indicate she was Annabelle.

Opening night critics were most impressed by the second film to be shown, Rough Sea at Dover , of a wave crashing on a shore. This subject, the only one not shot in the Black Maria and the only "actuality," had been sent to Edison by his English competitor Robert Paul:

The whirr of the machine brought to view a heaving mass of foam-crested water. Far out in the dim perspective one could see a diminutive roller start. It came down the stage, apparently, increasing in volume, and throwing up little jets of snow-white foam, rolling faster and faster, and hugging the old sea wall, until it burst and flung its shredded masses far into the air. The thing was altogether so realistic and the reproduction so absolutely accurate, that it fairly astounded the beholder. It was the closest copy of nature any work of man has ever yet achieved.[26]

Paul's film pointed out the possibilities of aggressively assaulting or confronting spectators with the image rather than simply using the camera for passive display. Patrons in the front rows were disconcerted and inclined to leave their seats as the wave crashed on the beach and seemed about to flood the theater.

Like Edison's peep-hole kinetoscope, the vitascope used a twenty-second loop of film spliced end to end and threaded on a bank of rollers. Raft & Gammon suggested that "a subject can be shown for ten or fifteen minutes if desired, although four or five minutes is better."[27] When, as in most cases, one projector was used, a two-minute wait occurred between films. At Koster & Bial's in New York, however, projectors worked in tandem and there was no wait. Even under these conditions, films still had to be projected for at least two minutes while a new film was threaded on to the other projector. Thus, each subject was necessarily shown at least six times. As one journalist remarked, "The scene is repeated several times, then the click click stops, and the screen is blank. A moment's interval, then a pretty blonde serpentine dancer appeared."[28] Although two projectors eliminated waiting periods between films, they did not


reduce the number of times a film was projected at one showing, nor were they customarily used to juxtapose related images. There was little room or concern with editorial techniques in these first exhibitions. Films were usually shown separately and treated as discrete images. In Cleveland, for example, waits were eliminated by alternating films with musical selections by the Chicago Marine Band.[29] Later, some exhibitors filled these interludes by showing "dissolving views" (i.e., lantern slides).

The absence of complex cinematic meanings has sometimes been seen as proof of the screen's primitive qualities, but this simplicity effectively emphasized the novel contribution of moving pictures to screen practice. Audiences, while accustomed to projected photographs that were static and to projected nonphotographic images that could move, were tremendously impressed by animated photographs projected on the screen. "Life-like" motion in conjunction with "life-like photography" and a "life-size" image provided an unprecedented level of verisimilitude. And yet cinema's novelty period involved much more than the exhibition of lifelike images. The rapid diversification of subject matter and the increasingly frequent sequencing of images constantly renewed cinema's ability to intrigue and entertain even regular vaudeville customers during the 1896-97 theatrical season. The first year of projected motion pictures, often called cinema's "novelty period," was one of multiple, successive innovations and not, as some have suggested, an undifferentiated period that simply relied on the new sensation of projected motion pictures.

Producing Films for the Vitascope

Revisionist historians have argued that Edison film production was grossly inadequate.[30] Certainly there were problems, and yet during the summer of 1896, the Edison Company remained the only American-based enterprise that produced a significant number of film subjects. With the Vitascope enterprise preparing for its debut, Raft & Gammon desperately needed new pictures. The recent inactivity was apparent when Frank Gammon took several performers to West Orange on March 24th and found the Black Maria in a dilapidated state. He "had great difficulty in persuading them to go in to the theatre dressed in their thin silk costumes, as it was just like going out into an open field in mid-winter."[31] The raised roof could not be closed to protect the dancers during preparations and rehearsals. Several actors, hearing of these conditions, refused to be filmed. Moreover, the studio was inconveniently located for those working in New York City. Although the vitascope's success and the onset of warm weather improved matters, the rate of production at the Black Maria would never again approach the levels of 1894.

At first the production practices of the kinetoscope era continued. Edison personnel, notably cameraman William Heise, coordinated filming activities, with Raft & Gammon acting as producers. Increasingly, however, James White must have been designated to fill this role. A new collaborative relationship



The May Irwin Kiss. The most popular Edison film of 1896.

was emerging, though this relationship was not yet in effect when The May Irwin Kiss was filmed in mid April. While William Gilmore stood by, Heise kinetographed this brief, fifteen-second scene showing the culminating moment of a popular musical farce, The Widow Jones . It was made at the behest of the New York World , which devoted a full page to "May Irwin and John Rice Posed Before Edison's Kinetoscope—Result: 42 Feet of Kiss in 600 Pictures."[32] The promise of extensive publicity may have induced the two stars to travel to West Orange. The scene was carefully rehearsed and then photographed only once. Perhaps intended for the premiere, the picture was not shown until the second week of the vitascope's New York run. It was immediately hailed as a hit. Several weeks later, Cissy Fitzgerald, the girl with a famous wink, likewise performed her specialty for the Black Maria kinetograph.[33]

Coinciding roughly with the filming of Cissy Fitzgerald , the Edison Company completed construction of a new, portable camera. "Our portable taking machine is now completed," Raft wrote Peter Kiefaber on May 6th, "and if tomorrow is a clear day, we expect to secure some every-day street scenes in New York."[34] Yet it was not until May 12th that Heise set to work photographing actualities similar to those that the Lumières were showing in Europe and the Lathams in the United States.


The first Edison street scene was Herald Square . The newspaper after which the square was named reported: "The photographers settled down to work at two o'clock yesterday afternoon, when the square was crowded with cable cars, carriages and vehicles of all sorts, while now and then an 'L' train would thunder by. They chose a window on the lower end of the square, where they were within full view of the Herald Building, and at the same time took in Broadway and Sixth avenue for a radius of several blocks."[35] When the film was shown at Koster & Bial's Music Hall, spectators may have had the pleasure of seeing the exterior of the building inside of which they were sitting (assuming, of course, the theater was within camera range). In this play with space, outside became inside—a somewhat disconcerting experience, greatly heightened by the lifelike quality of the image. Central Park , showing the main fountain, was taken on the same day. Within a week Elevated Railway, 23rd Street, New York was also shot. Six weeks before the American debut of the Lumière cinématographe, Edison actualities were being shown in American theaters. For New Yorkers at least, these were "local views" of locations they encountered in the course of their everyday lives.

Scenes of everyday life significantly diversified the kinds of subject matter that Edison was making. For almost the first time, Edison subjects had no direct ties to popular amusements or leisure activities. Nor did these images have anything to do with either sex or violence. Instead, they recalled the types of photographic images that were routinely presented in lantern shows to religious groups and cultural elites. Of course, these images were familiar, even banal, in terms of subject matter and framing. They would have elicited little reaction— except that they moved. "The Twenty-third street station of the New York elevated was a stirring picture, wherein the train came rushing along at top speed, so realistically as to give those in the front seat a genuine start," remarked one critic.[36] Not only were these films much cheaper and easier to make than those previously taken in the Black Maria, they proved to be at least as popular with audiences.

In late May or early June, Heise and possibly James White took their new portable camera on an ambitious trip to Niagara Falls, long a privileged subject for artists and photographers. Although the Lathams had already made films of this tourist attraction, that did not prevent the vitascope group from treading in their footsteps. The Edison crew shot the falls from a dozen different camera positions using 150-foot film lengths. The results were somewhat disappointing, and only four scenes were finally distributed. The most enthusiasm centered on Niagara Falls, Gorge :

a panoramic picture obtained from the rear end of a swiftly moving train on the Niagara Gorge railway, and one that has never been equalled for completeness of


detail and general effects. In this view the stone bluffs of the gorge, the telegraph poles, rail fences and the waters of the great river go rushing by with incredible swiftness, but yet plain enough for one to note everything in a general way, just as though seated in an observation car. The Whirlpool rapids are in sight one moment and lost to view the next, their whirling eddies and foam-flecked waves sparkling in the sun's rays, forming a very beautiful picture.[37]

Placing the kinetograph on a train was inspired by Grand Canal, Venice, a Lumière film in which the camera was situated on a gondola. (A print of this subject had been surreptitiously acquired by Albert Bial in Europe and turned over to Raft & Gammon in late March.) The results helped to establish an association between actuality subjects and a mobile camera that would be strengthened over the next several years. Two other scenes were of the American Falls from the east and west sides. In Boston, these were shown consecutively— the juxtaposition suggesting at least a rough spatial relationship between shots.

The new, portable camera also enabled Edison and Vitascope Company personnel to reconceptualize their filming of performers and sporting activities. Instead of bringing entertainers to the Black Maria, a kinetograph team could now go to amusement locales and capture subjects in their customary surroundings. This new opportunity was exploited in late June while Heise and a Vita-scope representative were active in Brooklyn. On June 23d they shot The Suburban Handicap , showing Navarre winning the horse race at Gravesend Race Track.[38]Parade of Bicyclists at Brooklyn, New York was made four days later. Although participating bicycle clubs still had exclusively male memberships, the bicycle fad had become a way for men and women to socialize together casually.[39] Additional films focused on another site where the codes of social contact had loosened—Coney Island.[40] Taken at Bergen Beach, where the vitascope was being shown, these included Shooting the Chutes, Ferris Wheel , and Streets of Cairo . The Ferris wheel, almost 200 feet high, was a local landmark that provided visitors with a magnificent view of Jamaica Bay. Streets of Cairo (later retitled Camel Parade ) was taken at the Egyptian Encampment.[41] Paul Boyton's "Shooting the Chutes" was a hit amusement ride (imitations were springing up everywhere). Two shots of this attraction were taken, "the first showing the shoot down the incline and the other the dash into the water."[42] These separate views may have been part of a single 150-foot subject, making it one of the first instances in which the producer assumed an editorial role, juxtaposing two spatially and narratively related shots.

Recognizable, if highly specialized and ephemeral, "genres" were established and/or developed during the summer months. The Haymakers at Work and Carpenter Shop recalled the first workplace films. One subject continued the filming of burlesque boxing matches by depicting a male-female duo. It combined sexual suggestiveness with violence in a single motion picture subject for perhaps the first time. Bathing Scene at Coney Island , taken in early July, not



Shooting the Chutes, showing the descent down the incline.

only continued the documentation of that popular amusement resort but provided a variation on the popular Rough Sea at Dover . All these films were taken with either 50-foot or 150-foot rolls of films. While 50-foot sections of the longer films were often sold, these remained the two standard lengths.

The Lumière influence on Edison production was wide-ranging and strong. Short comedies, reminiscent of the Lumières' The Gardener and the Bad Boy , (L'Arroseur arrosé ) appeared. These included two variations on that prototypical gag in which the bad boy plays a trick on the gardener and gets spanked for his prank. In one Edison version the gardener was male, in the other female. In The Lone Fisherman a man casts for fish from a plank cantilevered off a bridge. His friends come and upend the plank, sending him into the water. Street scenes continued to abound (Street Sprinkling and Trolley Cars, Deadman's Curve , etc.). Lumière military scenes, which had taken the vaudeville circuit by storm, were quickly and consciously emulated. Heise and his crew photographed Firing of Cannon at Peekskill by the Battery of Artillery and at least one other subject at the New York State militia encampment by the end of July.[43]

The production of news film was spurred by the screening of the Lumières' attention-gathering The Coronation of the Czar of Russia at Keith's Union


Square Theater in late July. A month later the kinetograph team took The Arrival of Li Hung Chang , depicting the Chinese viceroy at New York's Waldorf Hotel. Li Hung Chang having arrived on the S.S. St. Louis , they also filmed several scenes related to the ship's departure (Steamer "St. Louis" Leaving Dock, Baggage Wagons ). Moreover, the quotidian Ferryboat Leaving Dock, New York suddenly enjoyed a second life as the timely news subject Steamer "Rosedale " when that ferryboat sank in New York harbor.

The paucity of surviving films makes it difficult to characterize the results of all this activity in very great detail. Terry Ramsaye reports that the portable camera was placed on the roof of the new Raft & Gammon headquarters at 43 West Twenty-eighth Street. At this makeshift studio, performers and small fictional scenes could be conveniently photographed. Although dancers may have dropped by the midtown location to appear in scenes such as Couchee Dance , it is not known which scenes were shot there. Candidates include Irish Way of Discussing Politics , a reworking of A Bar Room Scene , and Watermelon Contest , shot against a plain background and showing two "darkies" guzzling watermelon. So too are three scenes of cartoonist J. Stuart Blackton performing lightning sketches, each taken in mid August with 150-foot loads of film. The most successful, Edison Drawn by "World" Artist , was often used to conclude a film program on "Edison's Vitascope."[44] When shown at Proctor's Pleasure Palace in mid September, it was declared "the most curious and interesting of the new views" and was kept on the bill in subsequent weeks.[45]

A number of Edison films were designed to elicit political reactions from theatrical audiences; the theater was then a site where partisan political opinions could be expressed through shouts of approval or disdain. That The Monroe Doctrine was one of the first films made for projection was not, therefore, fortuitous but a calculated attempt to find favor with Koster & Bial's patrons. Its success was followed by Blackton Sketches, No. 2 (Political Cartoon) , in which Blackton rapidly draws likenesses of President Grover Cleveland and candidate William McKinley (rather than his Democratic-Populist rival, William Jennings Bryan). The film begins with a patriotic image of America's commander in chief, then moves on to suggest McKinley as his likely successor. With pro-Republican audiences predominating at the Music Hall and other New York theaters, the response must have been electric. Irish Way of Discussing Politics , in which two Irishmen discuss politics over a glass of whiskey, lampooned the Tammany Hall crowd. Likewise, in Pat and the Populist , the bricklayer Pat is approached by a Populist office seeker and "shows his displeasure by dropping bricks on the politician."[46] Not all images were resolutely anti-Democratic. When Bryan was campaigning in New Jersey, Heise took a news/ political film—Bryan Train Scene at Orange . Yet such a film was not necessarily meant to be pro-Bryan. Rather it could be exhibited ambiguously and elicit both cheers and catcalls, generating an informal opinion poll from an audience.


Throughout the summer and into September, Edison retained a virtual monopoly over the production of American subjects. Lumière films were not taken in the United States until September and not shown here until November. W. K. L. Dickson and the American Mutoscope Company photographed American subjects during the summer, but did not begin their exhibitions until September. Only the Lathams competed in this regard; but their limited number of subjects, inferior projection system, and internal squabbles hindered their effectiveness. With the Edison Manufacturing Company producing an adequate number of new subjects during the summer and early fall, the problems encountered by the Vitascope group occurred principally in other areas.

The Vitascope Group

In a number of crucial respects, the Vitascope organization was typical of film companies as the novelty era began. It manufactured its own equipment and made its own films. In addition, it retained control over exhibition as well as production. In fact, the four leading rivals had incompatible technologies— the vitascope, eidoloscope, cinématographe, and biograph—and thus each company had to operate in a self-contained fashion. However, the Vitascope organization was uniquely burdened by a loose affiliation of individuals and groups, whose interests often did not coincide. At the center was the Vitascope Company, incorporated by Norman Raft, Frank Gammon, and James White (as the third member of the board of directors, with one share of voting stock) in early May.[47] (This was one indication that the stockholders of Raft & Gammon's old Kinetoscope Company were not to play a part in this new enterprise. In fact, it was soon liquidated.) Raft & Gammon acted as a clearing house for the entrepreneurs, who had bought exclusive exhibition rights at considerable expense. As these owners were desperately trying to recoup their investment, they had little sympathy for, or understanding of, the company's problems. Raft & Gammon, moreover, did not control the Edison Company's activities and could only plead for quick action. Thomas Armat and T. Cushing Daniel, with their patent applications, were yet another affiliated organization. Although the coordination of these groups sometimes presented awkward problems, vitascopes served as the principal purveyors of moving pictures in the United States throughout the summer of 1896. The number of available machines, the comparative variety of films, the Edison name, and the hard work of the states rights owners assured a rapid, nationwide diffusion of this novelty.

Raft & Gammon's principal commercial strategies worked on two levels. First, they sought an immediate windfall by selling off the exclusive exhibition rights for specific territories (known as "states rights") to entrepreneurs, with publicity generating interest and raising the price. The sale of rights then bound these investors to the Vitascope enterprise. As Raft explained to Armat, "After


our territory is once sold, we need have but little fear about future business. After the purchasers of territory have their money invested, nothing will prevent their going ahead, and they will co-operate with us against all possible competitors and against untoward conditions and circumstances."[48] Thus, long-term profits would be achieved by renting machines to the states rights owners for $25 to $50 per month and through the sale of films.

States rights was considered a particularly effective way to deal with the threat presented by competing machines. This long-term strategy, however, was premised on controlling the exhibition field through Armat's patents—on which applications had been made but not yet granted. At best, such aid was in the distant future. During the interim, the goodwill and cooperation of the Edison Manufacturing Company were crucial.

In a long, often redundant, letter to William Gilmore, Raff outlined those areas in which Edison Company assistance was sought: good workmanship in the manufacture of vitascopes, prompt service, easy access to a camera and operator, exclusive ownership of films that they financed (so continuing an already established arrangement), and a promise not to sabotage the Vitascope Company by marketing a competing machine.[49] Raff's deference of tone, his frequent reference to moral obligations, and his eagerness to share profits with Edison and Gilmore all underscore the Edison Company's crucial role. This obeisance must also be placed against the background of Edison's business dealings in the closely related phonograph industry where he had just (February 1896) forced the North American Phonograph Company into bankruptcy. The investors in the old company plus the various owners of states rights either folded or, as in the case of the Columbia Phonograph Company, lost the special benefits of their investment. Edison then replaced the defunct company with the new National Phonograph Company under his immediate ownership. As Robert Conot has remarked, such activities gave Edison the worst image in this associated industry.[50] Moreover, if Edison chose to assume direct control over the phonograph, why not over moving pictures? Raft & Gammon never explicitly asked this unsettling question in their correspondence, but it was obviously on their minds. Nor did they apparently receive any reassurances. For the moment, Edison cooperated because Raft & Gammon were extremely useful and served both his reputation and pocketbook. In the longer term, Edison self-interest would prevail.

In the end, vitascope rights were sold for virtually every state outside the Deep South. Owners of these states rights came from a variety of backgrounds. Many had exhibited the phonograph and/or kinetoscope and were anxious to continue a profitable association with Edison. Others had a background in electricity and were ready to continue their Edison association but move into the entertainment field. A few had either theatrical experience or been otherwise



William E. Gilmore.

active in the field of popular amusement. A significant number of the Vitascope entrepreneurs had no relevant background, however, but were small businessmen hoping to strike it rich on Edison's latest novelty.

States rights owners had several ways to make a return on their investment. Typically, owners acted as exhibitors, providing a selection of films, a projector, and an operator. This package was commonly offered to theaters for a fee, usually several hundred dollars a week. In other circumstances, these exhibitors either rented a vacant storefront and kept any profit above expenses or presented films at a hall and divided receipts with its manager. A few leased subterritories to amusement managers who wanted complete control over their shows. Several historians have offered useful overviews of the experiences of these "pioneers," but focusing on the activities of one group of individual entrepreneurs is another way to understand the opportunities and difficulties faced



One of the first vitascopes.

by these early exhibitors.[51] What were their backgrounds? How did they come to acquire the rights? How did they try to exhibit this novelty and what kind of reception did it enjoy? The next section will address these questions by looking at the group based in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, with which Edwin Porter was deeply involved.


The Connellsville Entrepreneurs Acquire States Rights

As production on the vitascopes moved forward at the Edison works during March and April 1896, Raft & Gammon were busy promoting the machine and selling territories to entrepreneurs. Edwin Porter, then approaching the end of his naval enlistment and pursuing his interest in electricity, came in contact with this latest of Edison novelties. Perhaps seeing a demonstration in their office, he informed his friend Charles H. Balsley of this new invention and the commercial opportunities it seemed to offer. On March 30th, Raft & Gammon received two pieces of correspondence from Balsley asking about territory in Pennsylvania. The following day they responded, explaining that Pennsylvania had been sold and offering other territories.[52] Balsley's father, J. R. Balsley, and several other Connellsville merchants then decided to purchase the rights to the neighboring state of Ohio. A telegram on April 4th, however, informed the potential investors that Raft & Gammon had agreed to hold Ohio for "an interested party," Allen F. Rieser, who ultimately bought the rights.[53] Members of the consortium then traveled to New York and purchased the rights to Indiana for $4,000— an acquisition soon announced in the Connellsville newspaper[54] (see document no. 2).



The exclusive rights for the state of Indiana for the new Edison marvel, the Vitascope, have been secured by J. R. Balsley, R. S. Paine, F. E. Markell and Cyrus Echard of Connellsville.

The vitascope is an improved kinetoscope by which moving life size figures of men, women and animals are thrown on a screen by means of bright lights and powerful lenses. A feature of the new machine which astonished the gentlemen named who recently witnessed a private exhibition in New York, for it is not ready for public view, was the almost entire absence of vibration in the pictures as they appear on the screens. The machine is said to be the wonder of the age. A vast money making field is opened up by it, as exhibitions can be given in theatres and halls, reproducing scenes and views with all the realism of life.

The four Connellsville men struck while the iron was hot, and secured the exclusive territory of Indiana. No one can exhibit the machine in Indiana without first securing the right from the gentlemen who control that state. They will probably sell the rights by counties and cities and will doubtlessly realize handsomely on their investment. The vitascopes will not be sold, but remain the exclusive property of their maker, Raft and Gammon of New York, who will lease the machines for a nominal sum

(Text box continued on next page)


monthly. This will enable purchasers of states rights to control their states absolutely. Messrs. Balsley, Paine, Markell and Echard have not disposed of any territory yet, but will place it on the market in a short time. There are great possibilities for the vitascope. The rights to Allegheny county, Pennsylvania were sold to Harry Davis by the syndicate for only $1,000 less than they paid [for] the rights for the whole state. There's money in it.

SOURCE : Connellsville Courier , April 17, 1896.

These four Connellsville men were, like many other Vitascope investors, small-time businessmen ready to risk hard-earned capital on the latest invention of America's folk hero Thomas Edison. J. R. Balsley had left the lumber business and retired to part-time inventing. In February 1896 he was selling a thread cutter and holder, "an ingenious little invention that everyone using spool thread will be glad to have."[55] Although Richard S. Paine, shoe store owner, had nearly gone bankrupt in the late 1870s and 1880s, he was prospering in the mid 1890s and owned stock in the local electric company.[56] He was ready to take another chance on the man who predicted the world would soon be run on electricity. F. E. Markell, a pharmacist with several drug stores, was prospering and six years later would become the first president of the Citizens National Bank.[57]

Appropriately, but coincidentally, a stereopticon lecture was given in Connellsville a few days after the group purchased their vitascope rights. As they were about to become entertainers, the local entrepreneurs surely attended. The program, called "The Secret of Success," illustrated the life and work of Thomas A. Edison and ended "in a grand concert by Edison's latest, loudest and best, the Auditorium Phonograph."[58] Certainly these small businessmen dreamed of succeeding on Edison's coattails.

Enthusiastic about their purchase, Paine and J. R. Balsley were ready to risk still more capital. Interest centered on several territories, particularly California, a state for which Raft & Gammon received many inquiries, including one from Thomas L. Tally, who operated a kinetoscope parlor in Los Angeles.[59] Having purchased Indiana, Balsley obtained a brief option on California. A telegram sent April 11th told him: "Price twenty-five hundred. Can hold till Monday no longer."[60] If Balsley was unwilling to invest additional capital, Paine seemed ready to buy the California rights alone. "We will be glad to let you have California if we can do so," Raff & Gammon wrote Paine on April 18th. "There are several parties after it and we have rather obliged ourselves to Mr. Balsley although we shall ask him to decide the matter today." A handwritten note at the bottom informed Paine that "Mr. B has taken Cala." and offered him other states as alternative investments,[61] but Paine was satisfied and the Connellsville entrepreneurs stopped there.


Balsley sent the down payment of $833.34 for California to Raft & Gammon on April 20th. It was acknowledged on the eve of the vitascope's premiere at Koster & Bial's:

You will find the receipt is in a little different form from the one given you on Indiana but we think you will agree with us that it is more specific and better for you. Since giving you a receipt on Indiana, we have adopted this regular form for all future sales of state rights as we want all receipts to be as uniform as possible.

We are promised fifteen machines on the 7th of May, and of that number we have put you down for one for Indiana. If we possibly can, we will save another for your use in California, but we cannot promise positively. However, we are confident that we can deliver you one or more machines before the first of June and possibly considerably before that date.

We note your remarks as to securing the Vitascope view of Coke Works, and we will probably make our arrangements to secure the same at the proper time. We thank you for your kind offer, and shall be glad to take advantage of it when the time comes.

The Edison Works have secured their first lot of what we call "clear stock" for films and we are counting on producing splendid results by use of the same. In fact, the outlook is very bright and we think the machine is going to create a sensation at our exhibit tomorrow night at Koster & Bial's.
Very truly yours,
Raft & Gammon

We enclose letters referring to California rights. Please return letters to us.[62]

As Raft had written to Edison's general manager, William Gilmore, the new contract made it clear that Raft & Gammon could not be held responsible for rival machines. It was this increased burden of risk that the Connellsville group found unsettling—particularly once amusement notices announced the imminent arrival of competing machines. Four days before the vitascope's debut, ads for Proctor's vaudeville organization reassured its patrons: "Coming very Soon to Proctor's Pleasure Palace—the Photo-Electric Sensation that all London is now flocking to see—The Kintographe."[63] Writing Raft & Gammon on April 25th, Paine worried about rival organizations and quoted a negative review of the vitascope's performance. Raft, with the Koster & Bial's premiere just behind them, countered with a reassuring and self-assured letter that offered to refund their money and sell the territory to another interested party. He dismissed potential competitors, insisting that "Information which we have received satisfies us, beyond doubt, that we not only have a superior machine but that we have such tremendous advantages over any similar machine that is now in existence or could be constructed hereafter, that there is but little [to] fear in way of competition." As Raft later added, "There never was a good, big-paying thing which has not been imitated."[64] Another letter of assurance was sent to J. R. Balsley two days later.[65] The Connellsville group wavered but decided to stay in.


The vitascopes being manufactured at the Edison works were not ready as quickly or in the quantity that Raft & Gammon had hoped for and led others to expect. On May 9th the completion of the first three or four machines was still a week away. Owning the rights to Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland, P. W. Kiefaber was given two of these for an exhibition at Keith's in Boston. He insisted, with considerable justice, that two machines were necessary for a good show: certainly two were being used at Koster & Bial's.[66] The Boston premiere came on May 18th. On that same day, Paine and Charles Balsley also left Connellsville for New York to pick up their equipment and to learn how to operate the machine.[67] Within a week, other openings had occurred in Hartford, Philadelphia, and Atlantic City. The Connellsville consortium were forced to delay their debut, for they took their first projector to San Francisco, the cultural capital of the West, rather than to Indiana as originally planned. Gustave Walter had agreed to show the vitascope at his vaudeville theaters in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Porter remained behind in the New York area, waiting for his enlistment to run out.

Rival Novelties: the San Francisco Opening of the Vitascope

As Balsley and Paine were about to arrive in San Francisco, William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner devoted a full-page article to the Lathams' eidoloscope with its "Instantaneous Photographs of a Bull Fight." The article, profusely illustrated with line drawings based on film frames, informed readers that the bullfight "was arranged by Mr. Gray Latham for the purpose of taking Eidoloscope pictures now being thrown on the screen" in New York.[68] No equivalent coverage was devoted to the Connellsville entrepreneurs either before or during the vitascope's San Francisco debut. Its effect was to partially undermine perceptions of the vitascope as the original screen machine. Twelve days before the eidoloscope article, the Examiner had run a story on the vita-scope, but it focused on the predictions of Charles Frohman, one of the theater's leading impresarios, who sent road companies to San Francisco from his New York base. The vitascope, he believed, was "destined to substitute for stock scenery actual representations of scenes with all the human agents necessary, sitting, standing, moving about, chatting, in short, fulfilling the ordinary everyday duties and occupations of the ordinary individual."[69]

Once in San Francisco, Balsley and Paine encountered difficulties in setting up their machine—a common problem for the first vitascope showmen. In this instance, their lens gave too large an image for the distance from the Orpheum Theater's balcony to the screen and a new one had to be purchased from George Beck for $55.[70] There may have been further complications as well, for the New York Clipper listed the vitascope's West Coast debut as June 1st,[71] though it was not until June 7th that the local press, after many promises that the vita-


scope was coming, could announce the novelty's opening for the following day. In doing so the papers presented moving pictures as one of several novelties competing for the attention of vaudeville patrons. The Examiner informed its readers:

The Orpheum announces a strong string of novelties. Of these great stress is laid on the engagement of Edison's latest wonder, the vitascope. This wonderful machine, if it may be termed a machine, has been the sensation of the East for the past two months and has been secured by the Orpheum circuit at great expense, it is claimed. "Wizard" Edison has named the latest product of his remarkable genius the "vitascope" from the fact that it projects apparently living figures and scenes upon a screen or canvas before the audience. Another novelty announced is of a troop of Marimba players from Guatemala.[72]

Still other novelties like the dancer Papinta were holdovers from the previous week.

Balsley and Paine opened the vitascope on June 8th, projecting five films with an intermission of two minutes between each film.[73] Perhaps because San Franciscans had read such glowing reports of the machine's feats in New York, the novelty proved a mild disappointment. While declaring that the vitascope was "well worth seeing," the San Francisco Chronicle only gave it a brief two-line review.[74] Since most of the films had been or were available at Bacigalupi's Kinetoscope, Phonograph and Graphophone Arcade at 940 Market Street, the critic felt "the selection of pictures had not been the most interesting so far."[75] San Francisco clearly expected to see the best films available. Other newspapers did not feel compelled to comment on the machine's debut at any length. The Examiner reviewed the Orpheum's program only in passing. "The presentation of fine pictures by Edison's vitascope will be a pleasing feature of this week's program," it reported.[76] To most it did not seem to be the "Sensation of the 19th Century," as Walter suggested in his ads.

The blasé attitude that greeted the vitascope has to be understood in the context of rival novelties, particularly rival forms of screen entertainment, which converged on the West Coast during the spring of 1896. Alexander Black's picture play Miss Jerry , a "novel form of entertainment," had its debut in San Francisco on June 8th at the Metropolitan Temple.[77] It presented an entire play on the screen using a large number of photographic slides that followed each other in rapid succession. Dialogue for the various roles was mimicked by a narrator, in this case Miss Carrie Louis Ray. The San Francisco Call described the picture play as "a most exquisite treat."[78] A lengthy review in the Chronicle was more impressed with Black's picture play than with the vitascope, to which it was indirectly compared. "The photographer has done his work so admirably that it only needs a bit of imagination to make it all seem real, even to a nineteenth century audience. The idea is from Edison, but the love story is so


daintily and prettily told and so full of humor withal that it would be a captious audience that was not pleased."[79]

The illustrated song was yet another novelty. Lantern slides, projected onto the screen, offered a visual interpretation of the song's lyrics as they were performed. On the day the Examiner announced the vitascope opening, it ran a half-page article on the illustrated song calling it "the Latest Novelty of the Stage." After excerpting a song and describing the slides that accompanied it, the newspaper concluded with a brief quote from the proprietor of a vaudeville theater:

The day for ordinary ballad and sentimental singers on the vaudeville stage is rapidly passing away. Recent advancements along electrical and photographic lines have added so much to the pictorial advantages of the stage that the camera has been brought into active requisition in this particular. During the past few months pictures instinct with life, vivid with color and clear in characterization have been associated with a song so that while the verbal description and harmony come from the throat of a singer, the eye is satisfied with the mimic portrayal of the scene. Not only does the song thus presented gain at least 50% in the estimation of the audience, but it also enhances the salary of the singer in equal proportions.[80]

At approximately the same time, moving pictures, the picture play, and the illustrated song jointly refocused the public's attention on the entertainment possibilities of projected images. Only during the course of time was it to become apparent that moving pictures were to dominate the commercial screen to the virtual exclusion of other formats.

The greatest photographic novelty during much of 1896 was not moving pictures but the x-ray. This newest discovery received constant newspaper attention between March and June, with Hearst's Examiner featuring stories in which bullets embedded in Civil War veterans were discovered after thirty years of unsuccessful probing. Edison himself received considerable front-page attention as he worked on "perfecting the x-ray."[81] Americans were even more impressed by the ability to reveal something no one could see than to capture and "reproduce" what could be seen every day. The vitascope, viewed as the logical extension of Edison's peep-show machine, was outclassed by this impressive scientific discovery.

Despite initial disappointment with the vitascope, the Chronicle reassured its readers that subjects closer to their initial expectations were to be offered during the second week: "There are many films coming and the sensational one of the Wave, which has been so much written about, will be worth seeing especially."[82] The following week Sea Waves (i.e., Rough Sea at Dover ) was heartily praised: "Those who have not seen the wave should see it. It is such a thrilling realistic thing that the people in the front seats involuntarily get up afraid they will get wet."[83] Since James Corbett was about to fight Tom Sharkey


in San Francisco on June 24th and since Corbett was the home-town hero, The Corbett-Courtney Fight was added during the second week as a timely subject with hometown appeal.[84] Boxing fans were able to examine their hero's technique with a life-sized image, and Corbett dropped by to watch himself fight.[85] This coup, however, had to compete with the x-ray. On June 18th, the world boxing champion "submitted to the most searching of all photographic processes for the first time in his life and when it was over Corbett said that the experience had been both interesting and enjoyable." After examining various parts of his skeletal structure, Dr. Phillip Jones made an x-ray of his right forearm—a process that took twenty minutes. The result was then published in the Examiner .[86] Once again the vitascope had been preempted by a rival novelty.

The vitascope's third week at the San Francisco Orpheum featured The May Irwin Kiss , which finally reached the West Coast two months after it had been taken. While the response at the Orpheum was not reported in the press, the film was given an enthusiastic reception almost everywhere. According to one review, "the hit of the show, so far as marvellous lifelike effects and mirthful results with the audience go, was the amusing, much-prepared-for kiss—the May Irwin kiss from the 'The Widow Jones.' In this the effect was wonderful. The figures were so large that one could almost tell by the motion of the lips what Rice was saying to May Irwin and what Miss Irwin was replying. The facial expression was the widow to a T, and ditto Rice, and the real scene itself never excited more amusement than did its vitascopic presentment, and that is saying much."[87] In the middle of the third week, it was announced that "new views have arrived for the vitascope and this week will be the last one that the wonderful work of this machine will be seen."[88] The vitascope's run ended on a happier note than it began.

The vitascope was a "novelty"—a term applied to oddities, scientific innovations, ingenious demonstrations of strength and coordination, or displays of beauty and sexual allure with which vaudeville managers tried to amuse their patrons. Shortly after the vitascope's departure, the Chronicle remarked, "Vaudeville novelties are appearing in such rapid succession at the Orpheum that it would seem as if the supply must soon be exhausted. Papinta, the vita-scope, Black Patti, Blondi and Macart's dog and monkey circus have all appeared in rapid succession and now comes another novelty in the way of Herr Techow's cat show, which by reason of its oddity ought to attract attention."[89]

The importance attached to novelty was particularly significant at this moment in American history. The United States was coming out of a major depression (the one that had bankrupted Porter's tailoring establishment), spurred on by the introduction or successful commercialization of a wide array of products and technical improvements: the automobile, the phonograph, electric trollies, and electric light—as well as cinema. This emphasis on novelty celebrated


innovation and the changes transforming American life. Vaudeville confronted this transformation and often expressed it by emphasizing not only novelty but variety. As one journalist explained,

To those interested in the secret of the great success of vaudeville upon the stage, it must be obvious that the clue to the whole thing lies in the nervousness and desire for change that is characteristic of nineteenth century mankind. Sitting in a theatre for three hours at a stretch, looking at the same faces, hearing the same voices and waiting for the denouement of a play, is apt to become monotonous to most people. They prefer a constant change, both of actors and acts, and this they get in a theatre where vaudeville is presented.[90]

From this perspective, the vitascope was the vaudeville novelty of the nineteenth century, for cinema was to transform America's cultural life in the years ahead.

Despite its need for novelty, popular culture also relied on familiarity. Late nineteenth-century theater, particularly as it was performed in America's small towns, brought back the same plays year after year to be seen by the same audiences. In vaudeville successful acts were held over so that the spectators could see them again the following week and experience the same pleasure. Vaudeville acts themselves were rigorously defined by categories that were repeated over the course of time in an almost ritualistic formula.[91] The obverse side of variety was repetition. The acceptance of repetition can be seen in the projection strategies adopted for the vitascope, with its film loops, and in the exhibition of both new films and holdovers. It is also evident in the redundancy of subject matter that immediately followed the first films. A myriad of "kiss films" followed the Irwin/Rice novelty. Given the cultural framework in which they were shown, it would be too easy for the cultural historian simply to dismiss these imitations as derivative. Vaudeville and the vitascope valorized tradition and continuity as well as change and innovation.

Porter Joins His Connellsville Friends in Los Angeles

Porter was discharged from the navy on June 18, 1896.[92] Later he testified that his career as a motion picture operator began in June 1896, and he may have stayed briefly in New York City to operate the vitascope at Koster & Bial's.[93] At the end of the month, he was in Connellsville, but he soon "went to California to operate the first Vitascope machine exhibited there."[94] If the former naval electrician left Connellsville quickly, he could have reached Los Angeles just as the vitascope was opening at Walter's Orpheum Theater in that town.

After a week's hiatus while Balsley and Paine moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the Connellsville entrepreneurs resumed their film projections on


July 6th. The Los Angeles Times heralded the machine's imminent debut with enthusiasm greatly exceeding that of the San Francisco press:

The vitascope is coming to town. It is safe to predict that when it is set up at the Orpheum and set a-going, it will cause a sensation as the city has not known for many a long day.

The vitascope is Edison's latest and most shining triumph. It is a miracle of human ingenuity in the realms of electricity and photography. It is on the same order as the kinetoscope, with the difference that in the kinetoscope one person at a time peeps into a hole and sees a tiny moving picture while in the vitascope, the picture is thrown upon a screen and shines forth. . . life-size, so that the entire audience can see the picture at once. The vitascope was first publicly exhibited only about two months and a half ago.

The things shown by the vitascope are of many different kinds. A bit of Broadway in New York is very striking. The audience can see the swarms of people hurrying along, the jostle of horses, carriages, trucks, etc., in the street, all moving and changing and so real one almost expects to hear the street noises. A snowstorm, a skirt dance and a sea beach scene are some of the things shown. The life-like reality of the pictures is said to be startling. In San Francisco and elsewhere, one of the most popular scenes was a reproduction of the famous bit of acting in which May Irwin is kissed by John C. Rush [sic ]. The changing expression of their faces, their graceful movements, the play of hand and lip and eye, are said to be faultlessly reproduced.[95]

The Los Angeles Herald felt it necessary to describe the novelty and how it worked, suggesting that Balsley, Porter, and Paine were the first to project moving pictures in the city that was to become the center of the film industry.[96]

Once again there were competing novelties. Miss Jerry opened on the same night, this time at the Los Angeles Theater. Inquiries for tickets to Black's picture play indicated that "any novelty will take well in Los Angeles."[97] Another "novelty" reported in a Herald article ran opposite the paper's blurb on the vitascope: a French scientist claimed that thoughts could be photographed.[98] In this context, projected moving pictures did not seem quite so "marvelous." Anything, however extraordinary, now seemed possible. As the Los Angeles Herald was to comment on the vitascope, "Can genius go farther? We have been made to hear the voices of our distant friends and now we are enabled to see them move and act. Truly it is enough to make Franklin turn in his grave with wonder of it and yet, so attuned are we to the marvelous in this day and age of the world that we are scarcely decently surprised."[99] Nevertheless, the vitascope headlined one of the Los Angeles Orpheum's best programs in its three-year history.

News of the vitascope's arrival had packed the 1,311-seat Orpheum.[100]

Every seat in the theatre was sold ere the box office window was opened for the evening's business. Standing room only was sold, and the purchasers of it formed a fresco around the entire circuit of the walls from box to box in addition to which some hundreds who applied for seats left, to come again later in the week. So much for what


was expected of the management, and it can be said but in a few words, the immense audience was not disappointed.[101]

The Los Angeles Times provided readers with a clear description of the show's format, the protracted screening of the "endless band" of film and the interruptions that occurred while these films were changed:

The theatre was darkened until it was as black as mid-night. Suddenly a strange whirling sound was heard. Upon a huge white sheet flashed forth the figure of Anna Belle Sun [sic ], whirling through the mazes of the serpentine dance. She swayed and nodded and tripped it lightly, the filmy draperies rising and falling and floating this way and that, all reproduced with startling reality, and the whole without a break except that now and then one could see swift electric sparks. Then the picture changed from the grey of a photograph to the color of life and next came the fairy-like butterfly dance. Then, without warning, darkness and the roar of applause that shook the theatre; and knew no pause till the next picture was flashed on the screen. This was long, lanky Uncle Sam who was defending Venezuela from fat little John Bull, and forcing the bully to his knees. Next came a representation of Herald Square in New York with streetcars and vans moving up and down, then Cissy Fitzgerald's dance and last of all a representation of the way May Irwin and John C. Rice kiss. Their smiles and glances and expressive gestures and the final joyous, overpowering, luscious osculation was repeated again and again, while the audience fairly shrieked and howled approval. The vitascope is a wonder, a marvel, an outstanding example of human ingenuity, and it had an instantaneous success on this, its first exhibition in Los Angeles. A representation of Niagara Falls is now on its way [from the] East, where it was first exhibited only two weeks ago, and this will be added to the bill on Thursday evening.[102]

The opening night performance suffered from minor deficiencies, which were probably owing to inadequate power, since the Connellsville group was running its machine on batteries, an uncommon practice at the time.[103] The vitascope, unlike traditional magic lanterns or the Lumières' cinématographe, ran on electricity, which often created problems. The first vitascope exhibition in Worcester, Massachusetts, for example, was marred by electrical problems. As a result, "Cissy Fitzgerald's wink was invisible owing to insufficient speed and light, and the boxers struck with dreamy sluggishness."[104] Here Porter's background as an electrician and telegraph operator provided expertise that could correct the problem. After one critic returned to the Orpheum, he was able to report that the vitascope "scored even a greater success than on its first appearance, for there had been time to remedy all slight defects caused by the hurry in which it had been necessary to set it up."[105]

The vitascope program at the Los Angeles Orpheum was changed in midweek and reviewed the following day:

The announced change of programme of the Vitascope at the Orpheum last evening was well received, though some of the plates [sic ] which had just arrived from New


York were broken in transit and could not be presented. The view of the whirlpool rapids of Niagara Falls was a most realistic picture showing the rushing, roaring, whirling foam-beaten waves and splashing spray true to nature. Another view presented was that of the Atlantic Ocean beaches rolling up to the shore in the vivid way peculiar to the breakers of that turbulent pond. The picture of the female equilibrist doing a difficult act was appreciated, but the sympathies of the audience went out to the two performers in the kissing scene, and the graceful woman who danced in skirts.[106]

During the first week of moving pictures, at least 20,000 attended the Orpheum, while as many as 10,000 others were turned away. This encouraged the theater to plan a Sunday matinee.[107] Suggesting the city's enthusiasm for the novelty, a Los Angeles Times reporter speculated on the vitascope's future. "Wonderful as it is, the vitascope is as yet surely in its infancy," he wrote. "It is hard to say to what proportions it may yet be used in the amusement field 'with the development of color photography and the combining together of the vitascope and the phonograph, both of which are probably not so very far away."[108]

The most successful films shown on the vitascope were those that isolated a specific characteristic or representational technique to achieve a novel effect: the close view of a kiss, the forward-moving wave assaulting the spectator, even scenes of busy street life "vitascopicly" presented inside a theater (breaking down the separation of indoors and outside). These images were non-narrative, pure examples of what Tom Gunning has called the cinema of attractions.[109]The May Irwin Kiss , for example, was excerpted from a musical, but audiences did not need to know the story or the situation in which the kiss occurred to enjoy the film. In fact, as we shall see, the film could easily be attributed to an entirely different play. With the couple placed against a black background, the kiss was isolated in time and space. Even to the extent that the kiss had a beginning, middle, and end, this progression was undermined by the scene's rapid repetition during the exhibition process. Films like the wave were particularly effective when shown as loops, the repetition of the scene mirroring the repetitive nature of the ocean waves breaking on the shore. In the process these loops drained the image of temporal and spatial meaning.

During the second week, Porter and his associates offered another set of films. "The vitascope came last and the audience applauded every one of the magic pictures rapturously," reported the Los Angeles Times . "The new pictures were Amy Fuller's famous skirt dance, ending with a hand spring; a picture of three pickaninnies, patting, juba and cutting up capers, and a weird Oriental thing, 'the India short stick dance' in which half a dozen natives figure."[110] Ending their Orpheum engagement after the second week, Balsley, Paine, and Porter had toured the California vaudeville circuit as it then existed. Their options were limited by their dependency on electricity. As another vitascope exhibitor wrote Raff & Gammon, "To enable us to make money we have to so remodel the machine that it can be worked with hand power when we cannot



Tally's Phonograph Parlor on Spring Street in the summer of 1896.

get electricity and construct new travelling cases so that the breakable parts can be safely and rapidly packed for shipment. I believe there is plenty of business to be obtained in the country once we are prepared to work it, but it is worse than folly undertaking it in our small towns until we are ready to meet a three night's business and then pack up and get out to the next town."[111] Visits to California's smaller cities and towns were neither practical nor financially justified, particularly in the middle of the summer.

After the Orpheum run was over, R. S. Paine returned to Connellsville, leaving Porter and Charles Balsley to manage the machine. The two friends stayed in Los Angeles and reopened their show at Tally's Phonograph and Kinetoscope Parlor. Tally, who was eventually to become a major West Coast exhibitor and an important executive at First National during the late 1910s and early 1920s, promoted his move into cinema with blurbs in the local papers:

Tonight at Tally's Phonograph Parlor, 311 South Spring St, for the first time in Los Angeles, the great Corbett and Courthey prize fight will be reproduced upon a great screen through the medium of this great and marvelous invention. The men will be seen on the stage, life size, and every movement made by them in this great fight will be reproduced as seen in actual life.

New York and London went wild over this wonderful invention and last week the Orpheum was packed to the walls with people anxious to see the wizard's greatest wonder, the vitascope. Come tonight and see the great Corbett fight. From this date on the fight will be exhibited every evening.[112]



Tally's Phonograph Parlor as it would appear in 1898. 
Thomas Tally appears behind the kinetoscopes.

The next day it was reported that "great crowds flocked to see the greatest wonder of the world, the vitascope, Mr. Edison's latest invention. Performances will be given regularly every afternoon and evening and the programme will be changed daily."[113] Admission was ten cents. After a successful run, the Connellsville entrepreneurs sold their rights for California to Tally and returned home. Tally's machine was destroyed by fire shortly thereafter—or so, at least, it was said—perhaps as a way for Tally to free himself from any royalty requirements.[114]

The Vitascope Faces Increasing Difficulties

Purchasers of vitascope exhibition rights faced steadily rising competition throughout the United States. Gray Latham surreptitiously examined the vita-scope at Koster & Bial's and added an intermittent mechanism to the eidoloscope.[115] The Lathams' improved machine then opened at Hammerstein's Olympia in New York City on May 11th and had a successful five-week run. Subjects included Whirlpool Rapids, Niagara Falls; Fifth Avenue, Easter Sunday Morning ; and Bullfight . All "were excellently produced and won storms of applause."[116] During July they were "hot competition" for the vitascope in


Atlantic City.[117] By mid May, C. Francis Jenkins had found a backer for his phantoscope—the Columbia Phonograph Company—and was beginning to market his machine.

The Lumière cinématographe premiered at Keith's Union Square Theater in New York City on June 29th. It was soon evident that "nothing has ever before taken so strong and lasting a hold on the patrons of this house as the cinematographe."[118] Although only three cinématographes were in the United States by mid August, thereafter Lumière machines arrived from France with greater rapidity. Since the cinématographe did not use an endless band, people had to return to the theater to see the same subject again. Relying less on the mere novelty of lifelike images than vitascope entrepreneurs, the cinémato-graphe operators were beginning to explore ways to sequence films as early as July, when they showed various scenes of the coronation of the czar and czarina in Russia.[119] A less well known competitor was the kineopticon, which played at Tony Pastor's theater in New York City from late August to mid October. Among its European views were Paris Street Scenes, Boxing Kangaroo , and Persimmons Winning the Derby .[120] The vitascope's "monopoly" was challenged by an array of competing machines, many of which were technically equal or superior to Armat's projector. The only way for Raff & Gammon to block them effectively was through court action based on patent infringement. This was impossible since Armat's disputed patent applications had not yet been granted. Competition was a reality that the vitascope entrepreneurs had to endure from the outset.

Despite Raft & Gammon's best efforts, vitascope entrepreneurs faced many difficulties.[121] In Canada the Hollands could only give vitascope exhibitions in Toronto and Montreal, where the cinématographe and eidoloscope provided direct competition.[122] The Edison Manufacturing Company was also producing films of poor technical quality. The raw stock used during the summer was still manufactured by the Blair company. Although Blair's semi-opaque product had been excellent, the emulsion peeled away from the base of its clear stock.[123] "I enclose you a sample of a film 'Herald Square', that has been run through just seven times. We have at least six films (amongst them 'Annabelle') in as bad a condition," wrote an unhappy Andrew Holland. "It simply means that we are working for the [Edison] Laboratory—paying our own expenses and doing the chores for nothing. For my part, I would rather pitch the business to the dogs than to continue it under such circumstances."[124] The films' photographic quality was often poor, too. Edmund McLoughlin, who owned the rights to most of New York State, was unhappy that his films were "very gray" and discussed the problem with people at the Eastman Kodak Company. They suggested that Edison was not using the proper emulsion.[125] In mid September the Edison Manufacturing Company shifted its purchases of film stock from the Blair Camera Company to Eastman, inaugurating a customer-supplier relationship that


was to endure for many years.[126] The Edison Company, however, was not as quick to correct these failings as Raft & Gammon and the vitascope owners would have liked. The problem of quality was further exacerbated by the high price of Edison goods, which gave the inventor a healthy profit but left the states rights owners unremunerated.

Owners of exhibition rights felt their efforts were often compromised by a shortage of new, exciting subjects—particularly when competing against rival machines. Kiefaber demanded "good humorous, startling features to keep public turned towards us; with good live scenes we can keep our people attached to us."[127] This need was underscorw the Lumière organization arrived with a large backlog of subjects, all unfamiliar to American audiences. Keith manager E. F. Albee only reinforced this impression when he complained to Kiefaber that "the last two weeks, the films have been of such poor material and the views so indistinct that instead of the machine being a feature, it has become a farce."[128] But subject matter and technical excellence were not the only factors at play. Since Keith had acquired the American rights to the Lumière machine for the first months of its exhibition in the United States, it was inevitable that the cinématographe supplanted Kiefaber's vitascope at Keith's Boston and Philadelphia theaters.

Although the cinématographe, with its technically superior system and diversity of unfamiliar scenes, was the exhibition service of choice for most vaudeville managers, sufficient demand existed to support several moving picture companies. During the summer those few Lumière machines in the United States were located in the large cities, where diverse venues could accommodate the offerings of rival exhibition services. Although the Lumières harmed the vita-scope entrepreneurs, this competition was far from fatal in its results. Yet competition quickly moved beyond a vitascope/cinématographe rivalry, as is well illustrated by the Connellsville group's experiences in Indiana.


While R. S. Paine, Charles Balsley, and Edwin Porter were busy exhibiting the vitascope in California, Cyrus Echard and J. R. Balsley traveled with the vitascope through Indiana, showing films in Terre Haute and perhaps a few other towns. One problem with Indiana was the absence of large cities. Even Indianapolis (1900 population: 169,164) was oriented toward three-night stands by traveling road companies. The vitascope was ill suited for such conditions, and the entrepreneurs must quickly have realized that it would be impossible to recoup their $4,000 investment. By mid July they had returned to Connellsville disappointed.[129]

A week-long engagement for the Connellsville group came about by chance. Harry Clark, A. F. Rieser's business manager, was in Ohio when he ran off with his employer's vitascope. He had booked an exhibition at the Empire Theater in Indianapolis when Rieser's electrician caught up with him. Rieser later reported:


"They [the theater's management] have now arranged with the owner of Indiana to run a vitascope there next week."[130] Charles Balsley and perhaps Edwin Porter, having returned from California, were enlisted to show their films for this October engagement.[131]

In a city like Indianapolis, with more than one amusement house, theater managers routinely competed with each other by booking the season's most popular novelty—projected motion pictures. Thus, a phantoscope opened at English's Theater on September 14, 1896, simultaneously with the state fair. It was shown before each performance and between acts of the spectacular melodrama Sinbad . "Its pictures will create the same sensation here that they have been doing in New York and elsewhere," predicted the Indianapolis Sentinel .[132] Two days later, the evening was enthusiastically reviewed by the Indianapolis Journal :


The life and color of "Sinbad" as presented by David Henderson's famous American Extravaganza Company has a never-failing charm. It opened its week at English's last night and was welcomed by a large audience . . . .

One feature of the performance altogether new to the audience and which took the people by storm was the phantoscope. The pictures were shown between the acts. The first was the "May Irwin Kiss" a burlesque on the famous Nethersole kiss in "Carmen." It was received with roars of laughter and is certainly very lifelike. The second picture shown was a surf scene at Dover, England, and this was remarkably well done. The bathers, the waves of the ocean, the spray and all were shown to life. The Corbett-Courtney fight was the last picture and it was as if the audience sat at the ringside. A Sioux ghost dance, the great national bicycle parade, "Trilby" burlesque and other pictures will be shown in addition to those seen last night.[133]

The phantoscope had become a particularly serious problem for Raft & Gammon and their affiliates because the Columbia Phonograph Company had gained access to the Vitascope Company's exclusive subjects. Under these circumstances the use of Edison's name and the well-publicized New York opening were the vitascope's only unique assets, and even their value was beginning to fade.

To the public, the vitascope was becoming just one of several screen machines. When the Indianapolis Journal announced the forthcoming appearance of the Connellsville group at the Empire Theater in conjunction with Charles Frohman's road show of The Lost Paradise , it was not certain what to call the machine. It reported that "a dozen or more pariscopic views will be shown between acts. The pariscope, vitascope, cinematograph or whatever one calls it is the reigning sensation of the year in theatricals."[134] The Sentinel also referred to the films as "parascopic illustrations"—perhaps the name that Clark had intended to use for his runaway show. Immediately below the Sentinel's announcement of the vitascope, an ebullient notice informed readers that the


eidoloscope, "the most costly feature ever introduced in any theatrical performance," would soon be in town, too. "The bullfight which it reproduces in the last act of Rosabel Morrison's production 'Carmen' is the most startling incident ever seen under similar conditions."[135] Having been preempted by the phantoscope and outpromoted by the eidoloscope, Porter and Balsley might have expected a cool reception. The reviews of their opening night, however, suggest that Porter's skills as a mechanic, electrician, and showman were already apparent (see document no. 3). The Sentinel felt that "to say it was a success is putting it lightly."[136] When The Lost Paradise left the Empire at midweek, the vitascope remained behind, teaming up with the American Vaudeville Company for another week. The vitascope was again declared a success and a crowd pleaser, all the more so since some of the pictures were hand tinted.[137] Despite the good press, however, attendance was light.[138]


Empire—"The Lost Paradise"

It would have been hard to choose a better time for the revival of [Henry Churchill] DeMille's melodrama "The Lost Paradise," than the present. The play teems with doctrines, speeches and situations bearing on the alleged conflict between capital and labor, the action centering on a strike in a great factory. A love story is woven in and a tale of sacrifice for love, but the parts of the story in touch with the spirit of industrial unrest abroad these days are those that elicit the most applause . . . .

Between the second and third acts is given an exhibition of the original Edison's vitascope. The same series of pictures is given that received such favorable mention on its presentation at Koster & Bial's, in New York. The vitascope is an expansion of the kinetoscope. If the name had not been already appropriated, "living pictures" would be the most applicable term. The best of the series are Loie Fuller's dance, the view of Herald Square, in New York, in which the spectator sees cable cars, trucks and carriages passing, people crossing the street and moving along the sidewalks, and the view of the breakwater at Southampton which shows the waves rolling in one after another and breaking on the beach. The illusion is almost perfect, the effect being produced by so rapid a succession of pictures that before the eye has dropped the one the next has appeared, producing an effect of motion. Six in all are given, including the amusing long-drawn-out "Widow Jones kiss." "The Lost Paradise" will appear only to-day and to-morrow, with the usual matinees, a new company coming the last half of the week.

SOURCE : Indianapolis Journal , October 20, 1896.


Soon after the Indianapolis showing, the Connellsville group disposed of their rights to Indiana—presumably at considerable loss.[139] Balsley returned to Connellsville, where he spent the rest of his life, at one point serving as a cameraman/stringer for Pathé News, but otherwise pursuing a career outside the film industry.[140] Porter, however, went back to New York: he was in the moving picture industry to stay.

The Connellsville group's fate was similar to that of many fellow states rights owners. Lacking experience in the amusement field, they may have been wise to quit before losing more money and while their exhibition rights could be sold for anything at all. During their short career, they had exhibited in a diversity of circumstances. Vaudeville theaters had provided their most lucrative engagements, but the entrepreneurs had also exhibited in an arcade and between the acts of a play. J. R. Balsley and Echard may also have exhibited the vitascope at a summer park in Terre Haute. This diversity of venues well illustrates the eclectic nature of pre-nickelodeon motion picture exhibition as it was to be practiced for the following ten years.

The Vitascope Company in Disarray

By October 1896 Raff & Gammon were locked in a competitive battle that pitted their machine against many others. In New York City during the week of October 12th, moving pictures peaked as a vaudeville novelty, appearing in at least six theaters.[141] Raff & Gammon were exhibiting Edison's vitascope at Proctor's Pleasure Palace and Proctor's 23rd Street Theater, where it had been since September 14th. Lumière's cinématographe was into the fourth month of its run at Keith's Union Square Theater, where it still headed the bill. The kineopticon continued to show American and English views at Pastor's Theater. The centograph was "shown to good effect" at Miner's Bowery Theater.[142] The American Mutoscope Company, having premiered its biograph in Pittsburgh on September 14th, had its "official" New York debut at Hammerstein's Olympia on October 12th. Although advertised modestly, the biograph was greeted with enthusiasm.[143]

The American Mutoscope Company, often referred to as the Biograph Company because of its projector, had developed its own motion picture system using 70mm gauge film that had four times more surface area per frame than the Edison standard. The Biograph founders, moreover, had created a camera that worked on a different mechanical principle than the kinetograph. Film was moved forward by a friction feed and the camera created its registration sprockets as each frame was exposed; these frames were, therefore, not equally spaced along the film. Although the final results were effectively the same, Biograph was able to take out patent applications on its system. The biograph was best suited for protracted stays at first-class houses and produced a higher-quality image than either the vitascope or Lumière cinématographe. With the


resulting demand for its exhibition service, Biograph quickly expanded its operations and dominated vaudeville exhibition for the rest of the 1890s.

The Vitascope Company and its affiliated entrepreneurs were adversely affected, of course, by the competition offered by the Lumière Agency and the Biograph Company. The vitascope's rapid decline and eventual demise, however, was largely owing to the rapid proliferation of independent manufacturers that sold films and projectors to small-time exhibitors without restricting the territory in which they could operate. Charles Webster left Raft & Gammon and formed the International Film Company with Edmund Kuhn. By October they were manufacturing and selling a variety of film subjects.[144] Their initial film offerings were dupes of Edison subjects that had not been copyrighted. These dupes, therefore, were perfectly legal. By September the Columbia Phonograph Company was not only selling phantoscopes but offering films for sale at half the Edison price.[145] Many of these films were also dupes of Edison subjects.

While the biograph was designed for the top end of the market, other manufacturers developed projecting machines that were better adapted to the needs of traveling exhibitors than the vitascope. By September, Edward H. Amet's magniscope was for sale.[146] A few months later, the International Film Company began to sell its projectograph. Both machines possessed features that made them superior to the vitascope and were sold outright without territorial restriction or royalty requirement.[147] A dozen other projectors were on the market by the end of 1896.[148]

The Edison Manufacturing Company Breaks Away from Raft & Gammon

While the Edison Company's commitment to Raff & Gammon was never very deep, commercial pressures soon encouraged the inventor and Gilmore to distance their enterprise from the Vitascope Company. In late September, Edison began to sell films through Maguire & Baucus for 25 percent less than states rights owners could buy them from the Vitascope Company.[149] One infuriated exhibitor asked Raft & Gammon, "Is this monopoly on the Vitascope broken up or what is the matter?"[150] The only honest answer to this question would have been in the affirmative. Edison thus played one of its old kinetoscope agents off against the other. Yet as Raft & Gammon feared almost from the outset, it was never likely that Edison executives would have permitted their operations to remain under the Vitascope Company's umbrella for very long.

The Edison Company had built only seventy-three of eighty vitascopes called for in its contract with Raff & Gammon.[151] By October 1896 additional orders were extremely unlikely: the vitascope was an outmoded machine. The Edison Company, therefore, chose to ignore Armat's pending patents and constructed its own screen machine. Called both the "projectoscope" and the "projecting kinetoscope," it was first tested at the Bijou Theater in Harrisburg, Pennsylva-


nia. Its November 30th premiere was lauded on the front page of the Harrisburg Telegraph :

After . . . a select audience of city and county officials, newspaper men and their friends . . . witnessed a test exhibition of "Wizard" Edison's projectoscope (improved vitascope), at the Bijou Theater this morning, the "Telegraph's" representative is prepared to state that the invention will do until the greatest inventor of the age springs something new and still more startling in its effects on an amusement-loving public. The private exhibition was arranged by manager Foley and was a thorough success. This newest wonder of the electrical age will be here for several weeks or more in charge of G. J. Weller, one of Mr. Edison's representatives, who is under instructions to allow no one to see portions of the machine, for which patents are now pending. It is a great improvement on the vitascope in that it makes the object thrown upon the canvas larger and more distinct.[152]

The projectoscope was soon called "the greatest attraction ever presented at any amusement place in this city."[153]

Additional projectoscope prototypes were used for exhibitions in the eastern states over the next few months. On February 16th a preliminary circular announced that "Edison's Perfected Projecting Kinetoscope" was on the market for $100.[154] The machine was well received. Early purchasers included Lyceum entertainers J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith. Nonetheless, film equipment was no longer where the Edison Company was making substantial sums of money. Sales of screen machines for the business year ending February 28, 1897, totaled $21,159, but they produced only a modest profit of $1,534. Since Edison suffered a loss of $447 on his cabinet kinetoscopes, the profit from sales of hardware came to just over $1,000.[155]

Edison motion picture profits were now coming principally from sales of film, not equipment. For the business year ending February 28, 1897, film sales more than quintupled over the previous year to $84,771 and yielded a profit of $24,564.[156] With film sales becoming the key to profitability, much greater attention had to be placed on this area of the business. Heise and the kinetograph were removed from Raff & Gammon's control even as the Edison Manufacturing Company hired one of the Vitascope Company's key employees, James White, to head its Kinetograph Department in late October. His salary was $100 a month plus a 5 percent commission on all film sales.[157] At the same time, Thomas Edison began to copyright his company's most important films in an effort to protect them from the widespread duping that had sprung up (the first films reflecting this change in policy were copyrighted on October 23d). White, still relying on William Heise as camera operator, embarked on an ambitious production schedule.

James White's formal assumption of leadership of the Kinetograph Department precipitated few shifts in subject matter or treatment. Among the first of the new copyrighted subjects were Streets of Cairo ("four Egyptian Girls in full



Streets of Cairo.

native costumes executing the fascinating 'Midway' dance") and Feeding the Doves ("a beautiful girl and her baby sister dealing out the morning meal to the chickens and doves").[158] The fluttering of birds in the latter scene exploited the cinema's ability to show subtle motion, while the farm setting evoked nostalgia for a simpler, earlier time (as with Blacksmith Scene and other films). Although these represented two contrasting depictions of women, the reliance on display differed from the aggression evident in Mounted Police Charge and Runaway in the Park . For these last two, the action rapidly approached the camera, threatening to penetrate the imaginary dividing line between space in front of the camera and space behind it (between performer and spectator or between representation and reality). Following the many Lumière films of cavalry charges, White was using a simple, but effective, way to symbolically convey masculine activity.

Edison production was increasingly oriented toward turning out an array of related subjects that exhibitors could organize into sequences. Within a week of being hired, Edison's new motion picture head was filming the New York police. Accompanying the two just mentioned scenes, Park Police DrillLeft Wheel and Forward and Park Police DrillMount and Dismount showed a battalion of mounted officers drilling in preparation for the Annual Horse Show. The drill was performed for the camera; it was a conscious creation of spectacle, a display of discipline and state power that was sure to impress audiences. In November,



Mounted Police Charge. The frame suffers from nitrate deterioration.

White and Heise took four films that elaborated on Fire Rescue Scene . Three were photographed on November 14th, with the cooperation of the local Newark Fire Department.[159] These showed the fire engines leaving headquarters (A Morning Alarm ), a fire run down Broad Street (Going to the Fire ), and a final scene of fire fighting (Fighting the Fire ). Within a few weeks, exhibitors such as Lyman Howe were combining these into elaborate sequences.[160]

White's energy, captivating personality, and sense of the popular allowed for commercial success. It was these qualities more than his official position that enabled him to dominate the collaborative relationship he had with Heise. They also facilitated ties with prominent companies like the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Undoubtedly, this alliance was based on mutual interests. The American Mutoscope Company, which was rapidly emerging as Edison's chief rival, was enjoying immense success whenever its biograph showed The Empire State Express . One night at Hammerstein's Olympia, the New York Central Railroad bought two hundred seats to show off its vaunted train, suggesting that such films were not only seen as excellent publicity but as an inspirational symbol of corporate power.[161] It was in the interest of both parties to counter the Biograph—New York Central alliance with an Edison—Lehigh Valley one.

By early December, White and Heise were filming along the Lehigh railroad, accompanied by prominent corporate officials. On December 1st, near Lake Cayuga, New York, they took The Black Diamond Express . This scene, in



The Edison camera crew ready to film The Black Diamond Express. James White
 rests his arm on the camera. William Heise is to the right. They are accompanied 
by employees of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

which the train comes at the camera placed by the side of the track, proved to be one of the Edison Company's most popular subjects and was remade several times over the next six years. Many other railway scenes were also shot, but few of the resulting films were copyrighted or placed in Edison's catalogs. This trip then brought the cameramen to the Buffalo area, where they made a second and more satisfactory attempt to photograph Niagara Falls. Seven of these subjects were eventually copyrighted and sold, including Rapids Above American Falls and American FallsFrom Incline R. R. Buffalo Horse Market and several horse-related scenes at the Buffalo Country Club were also taken. On December 23d a party of Lehigh Valley Railroad executives visited the Edison Laboratory and were treated to a screening of films taken on the company-sponsored trip, beginning with the Buffalo Country Club and concluding with Niagara Falls. The choice of subjects seemed designed to encourage tourism and use of the Lehigh road. This mutually beneficial relationship between film and transportation companies would be further developed in the coming years.[162]

The Kinetograph Department's wish to avoid expenses whenever possible was again evident in a series of films taken in and around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at Christmas time. Although Bijou Theater manager J. G. Foley continued to enjoy packed houses with Edison's projectoscope in mid December, the Waite Comedy Company was threatening to curtail this success by showing films between play acts at the nearby Grand Opera House.[163] Foley, not wanting to be outdone by a rival theater, arranged for White and Heise to take a



The Black Diamond Express.

series of local views. When Police Patrol Wagon was made on Christmas Eve, "a large crowd assembled on Market Street, near Third, to watch the projectoscope people take a picture of two drunken men engaged in a fight and their arrest by Sergeant McCann and a couple of officers. The police patrol wagon dashed up and hustled the men off to the county jail."[164] Other views included Market Square, Harrisburg, Pa. , "with all the holiday shoppers, electric cars, Commonwealth hotel and many familiar figures and faces passing by."[165] In The Farmer's Troubles , "a wagon driving up Market street meets with several misadventures which attracts general attention." First Sleigh Ride was "taken after the first fall of snow and shows an exciting race along the river road."[166] On Christmas Day, Pennsylvania State Militia, Double Time and Pennsylvania State Militia, Single Time were photographed on or near the Capitol Grounds. All were copyrighted on January 8th and then offered for sale.

Before the Harrisburg views could be shown at the Bijou Theater, another exhibitor acquired the local scenes (as well as a new projectoscope) and secretly arranged to show the films at the rival Grand Opera House on January 13th and 14th. Once the screenings were announced, the distraught Bijou manager went to court in an attempt to block the Opera House screenings, but his plea for an



Receding View, Black Diamond Express.

injunction was refused.[167] Threats, promises, and appeals for a boycott appeared in various papers, but these simply increased people's curiosity. By the time Foley's Bijou began to show the pictures on the 15th, a large percentage of the city's amusement goers had seen the especially commissioned views. Only a scene of a local fire run, which had not been offered for sale, enjoyed its debut at the Bijou.

Another major filming expedition involved President McKinley's inauguration. The Edison team made a preliminary visit to Washington, D.C., in late January (Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. [© February 11, 1897]). They returned for the March 4th event and took eleven subjects, including McKinley and Cleveland Going to the Capitol and McKinley Taking the Oath . The cinematographers stayed on, filmed the new president attending religious services and ultimately accumulated more than a dozen views related to this quadrennial event. They received little attention in the nation's media capital, since with the breakup of the Vitascope operations, a large-scale, Edison-affiliated exhibition service no longer existed. Rather, the biograph at Keith's enjoyed the lion's share of publicity for presenting these subjects. Although Lumière cinématographes were in three New York venues (two Proctor houses and the Eden Musee), they could not handle Edison perforations and had to wait until similar subjects made the round trip to Lyons, France, for developing and printing.[168]

In April, White and Heise returned to the lines of the Lehigh Valley Railroad



Cock Fight.

and shot a group of subjects. Two were additional negatives of the onrushing Black Diamond Express. For Panoramic Scene, Susquehanna River , "the camera was placed on the rear of a moving train as it steamed along at the high rate of speed."[169] This receding view returned to a technique used to film Niagara Falls. It differed in only one minor, but significant, aspect from The Haverstraw Tunnel , a Biograph film made only a few months later. Biograph's camera was placed on the front rather than the rear of the train. The resulting bold penetration of space (including the entrance into a tunnel) was more shocking, more daring, than the backward-looking, nostalgic view that had almost become Edison's trademark.

Receding View, Black Diamond Express was "the first picture ever taken of a receding train . . . as the passengers are seen in the windows and on the rear end of the train, waving their handkerchiefs, hats, etc."[170] Edison and its sales agents then promoted the film as "a very clear, sharp picture which will be found pleasing and interesting, particularly if shown immediately after the approaching view of the same train."[171] Exhibitors were urged to purchase the two separate films and juxtapose them to create a spatial world, with the second shot acting as the reverse angle of the first. Temporally, continuity was suggested but not specified. Certainly one cannot assume that this juxtaposition implied a linear progression of action across the cut. However fundamental the temporal relationship between these separate scenes is to the sequence, it re-



Making Soap Bubbles.

mains difficult to define precisely. Independent, self-contained units that stand on their own, the two films together yield the impression of repeated action and a temporal overlap. It is this tension—between scenes perceived as self-contained wholes, on one hand, and their potential as part of a more complex sequence, sometimes involving spatial and temporal connections, on the other—that provides a framework for understanding early cinema and its editorial strategies. In fact, this nonspecificity could be resolved by the exhibitor (through narration or perhaps sound effects) or by the spectator's own subjective interpretation. Thus, by early 1897 editing—the arrangement of selected shots—was already becoming crucial, not simply for the construction of narrative but for the creation of spatial and temporal worlds.

As cinema quickly lost its value as a technological novelty, it was being reintegrated into screen practice. The possible spatial relations between these three subjects taken of or on a train were hardly novel—they appeared almost routinely in nineteenth-century travel lectures. The issue of temporality, however, was practically a new one. Using photographic slides, the screen had presented a series of frozen moments. Now images unfolded in time, creating new issues, new problems that were beginning to be explored.

White and Heise made two more series of related films in April. One was of Barnum and Bailey's Circus, then performing in New York City (Chas. Wertz, Acrobat; Trick Elephant No. 1 ). In contrast to two years earlier, the camera now visited the circus rather than the circus visiting the camera. The other



Mr. Edison at Work in His Chemical Laboratory. Staged in the Black Maria 
but modeled after a well-known photograph of the inventor in his laboratory.

series focused on Grant Day, April 27th, when Grant's Tomb on Riverside Drive, New York City, was dedicated with a parade (Grant VeteransG.A.R. ) and speeches (McKinley's Address ). In part because they were so easy to film, parades would become extremely popular news subjects.

During the winter and spring of 1897, the Kinetograph Department continued its production of simple, one-shot vignettes intended to stand on their own within a variety programming format. However, the Edison Company's initial reliance on preexisting forms of popular amusement was all but reversed. The Little Reb , a scene from Winchester , was virtually the only filmed excerpt of a play or musical taken during the 1896-97 theatrical season. Making Soap Bubbles and Children's Toilet continued Lumières' quotidian views of infants and small children (Baby's Dinner; Children at Play ). Established genres were elaborated. Husking Bee was a kiss film shot by a barn door: a man discovers a red ear of corn and his reward—a kiss—is exacted. Cock Fight , the remake (© December 24, 1896), now has two bettors active in the background. In Chicken Thieves , African Americans raid a chicken roost and are then pursued by angry white farmers with guns. The image of African Americans as happy-go-lucky petty thieves, common to the minstrel show and the Sunday supplement of most newspapers, was unfortunately, if predictably, being broadened.


A few films of dancers were still made. Parisian Dance showed "a dance in costume by two young ladies,"[172] and Annabelle returned in late April or early May to perform her Serpentine and Sun dance specialties to replace worn-out negatives. Yet more oblique ways of displaying female sexuality were being developed. Pillow Fight , which imitated a Biograph Company hit, is one example. It revealed "four girls in their night dresses, engaged in an animated pillow fight."[173] Here the sexuality was young, innocent, and unselfconscious.

One of the most intriguing Edison films from this period is Mr. Edison at Work in His Chemical Laboratory . Recalling Blacksmith Scene , a fictional workspace was created in the studio, and the inventor went through a mock experiment. Facing the camera, but apparently absorbed in his work, the "Wizard" flits from bottle to bottle, filling a vial that appears ready to divulge some secret discovery. Hokum of a type that Barnum would have appreciated, the film was able to reinscribe the inventor into the cinema process. A year earlier, "Edison's Vitascope" had had a virtual monopoly in its field. This not only involved a projection technology but an output of subjects. As projector models and non-Edison films proliferated, his place became less and less obvious, less and less visible. It was no longer hailed in newspaper publicity and only rarely mentioned in amusement advertisements. The film thus provided a means for reasserting his presence in a new way (on the screen), but one that recalled earlier Lumière subjects (The Messers Lumiere at Cards ) even as it played with the inventor's legend.

Edwin Porter, Itinerant Exhibitor

Edwin Porter, who had come to New York City to work for Raff & Gammon during the fall of 1896, followed White and Webster in the general exodus from the Vitascope Company. He was soon running a projectograph for Harry J. Daniels and a man named Dowe of Hamilton, Ontario.[174] Daniels was a specialist in ventriloquism and catch-as-catch-can showmanship. Undoubtedly he provided a lecture to accompany the pictures Porter was responsible for projecting. Together they traveled the Caribbean, which Porter may have known from his naval stint. In March they were reported to be exhibiting in Barbados.[175] Porter was one of many independent exhibitors crisscrossing the North American continent and the world, showing films to people for what was more often than not their first time. Far from Edison's New Jersey base, the show was sometimes promoted by introducing Porter as Thomas Edison, Jr.[176]


Producer and Exhibitor as Co-Creators: 1897-1900

The Eden Musee, a New York amusement center that regularly showed films, was licensed by Thomas Edison under his motion picture patents in February 1898. Just as important for our purposes, the Musee provided Edwin Porter with his principal form of employment—that of motion picture operator— during this same period. Projecting the Musee's films, Porter was involved in the creation of elaborate, high-quality programming that gave the Musee its excellent reputation. In the process, he and the Musee staff performed a crucial creative function that was as important as that of the production companies. They selected and acquired short films and frequently edited these subjects into programs with complex narrative structures. They were also responsible for the sound accompaniment: a lecture, music, sound effects, and even voices from behind the screen. These programs were very different from those that Porter and the Connellsville group had presented in the summer of 1896. The exhibitor was no longer presenting a novelty but had reintegrated motion pictures into the well-established practices of screen entertainment. By focusing on the production activities of the Edison Manufacturing Company and the exhibitions at the Eden Musee, new insight can be brought to the little-understood motion picture practices of the late 1890s.

The Peripatetic James White and Edison Film Production

Shortly after the 1896-97 theatrical year had ended and just as cinema's novelty period had come to a close, the Edison Company inaugurated a practice of great consequence for anyone interested in this era of history. When copy-



Suburban Handicap, 1897. The event shown in four different shots. As with many 
films from this period, this one only survives in a poor-quality, grainy paper print.

righting films, Edison began to submit complete paper prints to the U.S. Copyright Office. This would remain company policy for the next eight years. Nitrate films would decompose or be destroyed, but these invaluable records survived.[1] Moreover, they have remained virtually untouched and certainly unaltered for more than fifty years, while the handful of surviving nitrate prints were frequently subjected to commercial exigencies, including modernization and other forms of textual modification. Once these paper strips were rephotographed back onto film in the late 1950s and 1960s, they provided a unique resource, which even now has not been fully appreciated.

The earliest paper prints include Buffalo Police on Parade , taken June 10, 1897, and Free-For-All Race at Charter Oak Park , taken near Hartford, Connecticut, on July 5th. They not only document the kinetograph team's summer travels to Chicago and various points in the eastern United States, but enable us to understand the Edison Company's limited, but important, editorial role. Suburban Handicap, 1897 , taken June 22d, was a four-shot, 150-foot film of the


prestigious horse race at Sheepshead Bay, Long Island. In chronological order, it offered glimpses of the pre-race parade, the start, finish, and weighing out. The individual scenes may have been too short to sell on their own, and it was assumed that a purchaser would want as complete an account of the event as possible. In any case, White and Heise kinetographed and constructed a simple narrative. The shots lack camera movement (there was no attempt to follow the action), but are serviceable, if distant, views of the events. In the third shot, two heads are in the left foreground, lending depth perspective and the sense of being a participant. Whether or not intentional, such framings began to provide the basis for a news/actuality aesthetic. Other films taken that summer were not so ambitious. Philadelphia Express, Jersey Central Railway consisted of two takes. In the first, a train comes under an overpass and past the camera. The kinetograph was then halted and not restarted until another train approached the overpass. Edited together, these "takes" appear to be a single shot, with one train quickly following another. Time was elided, much as it was in the nineteenth-century theater when a character's off-stage (and therefore usually incidental) activities were radically condensed (the actor exited and then immediately reappeared).

The Edison Company employed a single production unit through the summer of 1897. As we have seen, this unit was collaborative in nature, as William Heise routinely acted as camera operator between 1892 and mid 1897, first with W. K. L. Dickson and then with James H. White. This phase of the Edison Company's history concluded shortly after the Monmouth County Horse Show in Long Branch, New Jersey, during mid August. This was probably the last joint White-Heise venture for many months, as the photographers took six copyrighted films of the event. These one-shot films (Judging Tandems, Exhibition of Prize Winners , etc.) reaffirmed the customary practice of selling individual scenes to exhibitors for use in more complex sequences. Edison's kinetograph and prestige served as a pass to this stylish, mid-August event.[2] The cameramen's attendance, however, is explained less by the horse show's newsworthiness than by the continued opportunities it provided the filmmakers for interweaving work and leisure.

By the following spring, the Kinetograph Department had at least three discrete film production units operating under Edison auspices. Immediately after the Monmouth County Horse Show, White embarked on a tour that ultimately lasted ten months and sent him halfway around the world. The 25-year-old Kinetograph Department head was joined by photographer Fred W. Blechynden. Since William Heise could not be spared for this ambitious trip, Blechynden assumed the veteran's customary role in the collaborative pairing. Heise remained at the laboratory to supervise developing and printing of negatives as well as to take occasional films.

James White's tendency to combine work and play (with film production



Philadelphia Express, Jersey Central. Two takes spliced together to form one shot.

often subordinated to manly adventure and enjoyment) was nowhere more apparent than on this trip, which ultimately produced over 130 copyrighted subjects. By August 22nd White and Blechynden were in the San Francisco Bay area, where they took a group of films at the famous glass-enclosed Sutro Baths. Some were simple quotidian shots of the baths. In Cupid and Psyche , however, the Leander Sisters were performing on the stage for a large group of male spectators, casually dressed in bathing suits. The camera was behind the two



Cupid and Psyche. The female performers dance for the male
 customers and the male cameramen.

women, who danced for the spectators and then turned and pranced for the lens and the all-male camera crew.

The Edison Manufacturing Company probably purchased the motion picture camera equipment used on this world tour (or used equipment supplied by Blechynden).[3] Unlike previous Edison cameras, this one did not operate on electricity—bringing Edison into line with common industry practice. Its new, if still crude, panning capabilities are evident in the seven-film "Pacific Coast Life Saving Service Series," taken near San Francisco. The pictures were "illustrative of the work being done by the Life Saving Corps of the United States Government, and show the methods in vogue at one of the most important stations on either side of our Continent."[4] A very quick, jerky camera move reframes the boat for Launch of Surf Boat. Return of Lifeboat consists of three shots, all taken from the same spot: between each take, the camera framing shifts in an effort to follow the boat. In the final shot, however, as the boat comes through the breakers, the camera pans to keep it in frame. Lack of control over the action required this responsiveness from the camera crew, producing new elements of a nonfiction aesthetic. Other films were shot from a single camera position but involve two or more takes. In some cases, as with Boat Wagon and Beach Cart , these cuts are virtually invisible and eliminate dead spots in the



Return of Lifeboat. In the final shot, as a wave takes the boat down the beach, the camera pans to keep it in frame.

action. In contrast, Launch of Life Boat utilizes a jump cut to show two important moments of a process, but without attempting to disguise or soften the transition. Although these films of practices and demonstrations were not fictional (i.e., seeking to create the illusion of an actual rescue), they were often advertised as such.

James White continued his reliance on subsidies from transportation companies. On September 2d, the photographers took three films of the S.S. Coptic leaving its dock. This ship was owned by the Occidental and Oriental Steamship Company, which later provided the pair with passage to and from the Far East. The following day White and Blechynden began to tour the lines of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company; they filmed accommodations and sites that were part of the package tours then being offered by the railroads (Hotel Vendome, San Jose, Cal . and Surf at Monterey ).[5]

While in San Francisco, White apparently met William Wright, whose animatographe was playing at the Chutes, a local amusement park. Wright, the leading West Coast motion picture man, possessed crude production capabilities. He had been in Seattle, Washington, just after news of the Alaskan Gold Rush broke.[6] Between August 6th and 9th, he took films related to the Klondike excitement (S.S. "Williamette" Leaving for Klondike and First Avenue, Seattle, Washington ). White apparently either purchased these negatives or worked out a royalty arrangement and eventually sent them back to the laboratory. Wright may have subsequently taken other films on the West Coast for the Edison Company.

By early October, White and Blechynden were in Denver, Colorado, where they photographed events centered around the Festival of Mountain and Plain, celebrated during the first week in October. This included a parade on the 4th (Masked Procession and Cripple Creek Floats ) as well as an Indian encampment (Wand Dance, Pueblo Indians and Buck Dance, Ute Indians ).[7] The intrepid



Wand Dance, Pueblo Indians.

cameramen then apparently returned with the Utes to their reservation (Serving Rations to Indians ), after which they headed south to Mexico.

White and Blechynden spent mid October to mid December in Mexico. Once again, their subjects were made with the active support of the railways. As the Edison catalog remarked:

The open-sesame of a general manager's pass, issued to Mr. Edison's photographers, has enabled us to lay open before the public views taken in the heart of our great Sister Republic. The Mexican Central to-day is a great railroad system, managed by capable and courteous officials. It is due to their interest in our work and the liberal assistance proffered to our artists, that they obtained such excellent and characteristic pictures of Mexican life.[8]

Several films were taken at the Hacienda de Soledad, in Sabinas, Mexico (Cattle Leaving the Corral ). Scenes of Mexico City included Las Vigas Canal, Mexico City and Sunday Morning in Mexico . Perhaps the most notable films of the entire trip were taken of a bullfight in Durango. The three-shot Bull Fight, No. 1 has a close view/far shot/close view structure. The middle shot contains a slight camera move. It is also possible that the shots were taken at two different locations and then combined to create the appearance of a single incident. Bull Fight, No. 2 consists of two shots: in both the camera follows the action. Bull



Bull Fight No. 1.

Fight, No. 3 shows three scenes from a single camera position, including the bull's collapse. Although the production company made a significant editorial intervention, the three brief films remained separate elements for the exhibitor's construction of a larger program.

White and Blechynden returned to the United States shortly before Christmas 1897. Once again they traveled under the auspices of the Southern Pacific Railroad, arriving in San Diego on December 20th (Street Scene, San Diego ). Vast expanses of orange groves were filmed from the front of a train moving in Riverside (California Orange Groves, Panoramic View ). Checking into a Los Angeles hotel on New Year's Eve, they shot South Spring Street, Los Angeles , the first film to be taken in the country's future motion picture capital. Along the way, a diverse group of railway scenes were added to their collection. Again these scenes of everyday occurrences and annual events were well suited to an evening-length travel lecture combining slides and film.

The itinerant cameramen were reensconced in San Francisco by January 22d when they visited the Union Iron Works and took Launch of the Japanese Man-of-War "Chitose " and several related scenes. Two days later, they filmed



S.S. "Coptic" Running Against the Storm.

a parade celebrating the 50th anniversary of the discovery of gold in California (Native Daughters ). At this point White made a momentous decision. Having toured for six months, the photographers nonetheless left for the Far East aboard the S.S. Coptic on February 3d—less than two weeks before the sinking of the U.S. Battleship Maine . Again the Occidental and Oriental S.S. Company subsidized their way. Buffeted by a typhoon that damaged the ship and prolonged their passage by several days, they filmed S.S. "Coptic" Running Against the Storm .[9] The camera was strapped to the deck as a mountainous sea burst over the bow, precariously extending a procedure begun when a Lumière operator put a camera on a gondola moving through Venice.

White and Blechynden arrived in Yokohama, Japan, on February 24th. Over the next eight weeks, they traveled to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Canton, Macao, Nagasaki, and finally back to Yokohama. Twenty-five films made during this circuit were eventually copyrighted, including Street Scene in Hong Kong, Canton River Scene, Shanghai Street Scene No. 1 , and Theatre Road, Yokohama .



Japanese Sampans and Theatre Road, Yokohama.

White also tried to establish an Edison agency in the Far East and later claimed to be looking for materials that his employer could use in experiments.[10] Returning home on the S.S. Doric (Game of Shovel Board on Board S.S. "Doric" ), White and Blechynden arrived in Hawaii on May 9th. Films taken the next morning included Honolulu Street Scene and Kanakas Diving for Money .[11]

On May 16th, four weeks after the United States declared war on Spain, White and Blechynden again reached San Francisco. War films, not travel scenes, were in demand, and the fruits of this trip never received the attention White must have originally expected. Responding to these new circumstances, the collaborators tooks a few scenes of American troops departing for the Philippines (California Volunteers Marching to Embark ) and finally headed home. As was often the case with Westerners visiting Asia, White had become seriously ill.[12]

During White's ten-month absence, William Heise produced approximately twenty-five copyrighted subjects, all taken either at the Black Maria or in the Orange-Newark environs. In some instances at least, he worked closely with John Ott. On two occasions, the photographer took films in close cooperation with local civic organizations. At the request of the Ambulance Fund, Heise shot five negatives in downtown Orange on October 8, 1897.[13] Two were of the vehicle racing from its stable. Three others showed a man hit by a trolley and then picked up and rushed off by the ambulance. A local theater employee played the victim. Ambulance Call and Ambulance at the Accident , the best depictions of each scene, were copyrighted and sold separately, but commonly promoted and shown together (for example, at benefits for the Ambulance Fund).[14] Other films were made with the help of Gatling Gun Company A, a popular group of citizen soldiers whose armory served as their social club. On Thanksgiving morning, the crews gathered and performed their evolutions for the camera.[15] These included Gatling Gun Crew in Action and Mount & Dis-



Ambulance Call and Ambulance at the Accident.

mount, Gatling Gun . Shown at a benefit for the Company's Athletic Fund, they were also copyrighted and sold.[16]

Heise took winter scenes of sleighing, sledding, snowballing, and ice hockey during early February 1898. Other miscellaneous scenes included an April snowstorm in Llewellyn Park (Edison's residential neighborhood) and a May game of minor league baseball between Reading and Newark. That spring the Black Maria was used for several comedies. The Burglar was based on a well-known scene in Evans and Hoey's farce A Parlor Match : A burglar struggles to open a safe, but his task is interrupted when the office boy enters the room and reveals that the safe is used as a coal bin. The Telephone spoofed a new and increasingly common communication technology:

Posted on the wall is the startling sign, DON'T TRAVEL. USE TELEPHONE. YOU CAN GET ANYTHING YOU WANT . Man comes in, rings up, takes telephone, talks, then waits a moment; opens little door at the bottom of receiver, and takes out—a glass of beer! Blows off the foam, takes a deep draught, and telephones for a cigar. Waits for a moment; gets impatient and calls again, when out comes a blast of flour, plastering his face and clothes so that he looks like a miller.[17]

Both one-shot scenes were awkwardly handled, suggesting why Heise never assumed a more prominent role in film production.

The most successful comedy made during White's absence was undoubtedly What Demoralized the Barbershop , which Heise shot in the Black Maria with the help of John Ott.[18] The set for this reworking of Barbershop Scene was more elaborate, but the key shift was in the introduction of a new element—women. This all-male milieu is located in a cellar, with a set of steep stairs leading to the sidewalk. Here two women, presumably prostitutes, stop in the doorway and raise their skirts to reveal white-stockinged legs. Neither the customers nor the camera glimpse their upper torsos and faces. The men, who can see but not be



What Demoralized the Barbershop. The all-male world of the barbershop
 is disrupted as two prostitutes try to drum up some business.

seen (except by the film spectators!), lose their composure and scramble to get a better view. The camera, likewise, is low enough to provide an upward look. The film thus inscribes male voyeurism within its simple gag narrative. It also suggests the superiority of cinematic voyeurism: film spectators can look from the unhumiliating comfort of their seats. In the darkened theater, they can see but not be seen. If the film provides a laugh at the male customers' expense, it also offers the spectator the titillation of their view.

Heise's output discloses basic problems with subject matter that paralleled White's. His response to the inflamed patriotism sparked by the Maine sinking was limited to American Flag and Old Glory and the Cuban Flag . The first example of flag-waving remade an earlier subject, while the second offered a modest variation appropriate for the current circumstances. Two versions were taken of each, the ones against a black background apparently intended for hand coloring. None, however, depicted events relevant to the Cuban crisis.

Edison On the Legal Offensive

Although Thomas Edison copyrighted and marketed over 130 films during 1897, his enterprise was competing against several other motion picture manufacturers. Among the most prominent were the American Mutoscope Company (i.e., Biograph) and the International Film Company in New York; Edward Amet in Waukegan, Illinois; and Sigmund Lubin in Philadelphia. As a result, the volume of Edison's film-related sales changed little. For the year ending March 1, 1898, film sales were down 11 percent to $75,250, while film profits remained virtually unchanged at $24,439. The marketing of Edison's projecting kinetoscope had gone fairly well, but projector sales of $27,802 only yielded profits of $4,826. If Edison hoped to regain his dominance of the motion picture industry, patent litigation seemed to offer the most promising route.



Edison filmmakers at ease on the set for What Demoralized the Barbershop
. William Heise in barber chair; possibly John Ott behind him.

As Gordon Hendricks has shown, Edison had difficulty acquiring patents for his motion picture camera, since his innovations had been anticipated in almost every respect by previous inventors. On February 21, 1893, Edison was finally issued patent no. 491,993 on application no. 403,535 for his method of steadily advancing the film. The process of revising application no. 403,534 took even longer owing to excessive claims and the delaying tactics of Edison's lawyers.[19] (Since patents were only good for thirteen years, delaying their date of issue was often an effective strategy for extending the patentee's control over an industry.) Finally on August 31, 1897, Edison was granted his motion picture camera patent, no. 589,168.

In December 1897 Edison lawyers launched a legal offensive against a number of producers and exhibitors. Edmund Kuhn's and Charles Webster's International Film Company was the first target.[20] Rather than fight the case in court, International closed its doors. Maguire & Baucus, one of Edison's principal selling agents, but one that also sold Lumière and International Film Company subjects, was sued at the same time. They did not contest the suit either. While F. Z. Maguire continued working with the Edison organization and sold its films during much of 1898, the partners gradually moved their activities to England.[21] Lubin was sued on January 10th and Biograph on May 13th: both contested these suits and remained in business.[22] Over the year, Edison sued a



The Eden Musee.

number of other "infringers." Some of these acknowledged the inventor's patents and became licensees. With licensing arrangements characterizing Edison's commercial practices during the late 1890s, we now turn to look closely at Edison's first motion picture licensee—the Eden Musee.

The Eden Musee

The Eden Musee, an imposing stone structure on the south side of Twenty-third Street west of Madison Square, was located in a fashionable New York entertainment and shopping district. When a group of Frenchmen opened the Musee on March 28, 1884, the amusement center featured waxworks, often of a topical character, and musical concerts, along with an occasional specialty— lantern shows, marionettes, and so forth.[23] The Musee's catalog described its purpose:

The founders of the EVEN MUSEE had a higher object in view than that alone of establishing a profitable commercial enterprise. It was their intention to open a Temple of Art without rival in this country, affording to all an opportunity for instruction, amusement and recreation, without risk of coming into contact with anything or any-


body that was vulgar or offensive. For children and young people, particularly, the Eden Musee will prove a constant source of enjoyment and instruction. A child will learn more from a plastic representation of events and persons than a book can teach. Illustrated newspapers, giving pictorial views of incidents and scenes of today, have already a great advantage over the ordinary journals which give us only the dead letterpress; and from the cold, colorless engravings of an illustrated newspaper to the life-like plastic groups of the Eden Musee is an immense step towards a realistic representation of nature and life.[24]

Through ticket price and programming, the Musee appealed to a middle-class audience whose sense of cultural propriety included a strong dose of moralism.

By the mid 1890s the changing world of New York amusements had left the Musee in a tenuous situation. To compete with the rising tide of vaudeville, it often featured dancers, singers, and other performers. Yet these worked against the image outlined in its catalog and were not apparently successful. Musee president Richard G. Hollaman solved the crisis by making moving pictures an important third element in the house's programming. On December 18, 1896, the Lumière cinématographe began to show films in the Winter Garden, which could accommodate 2,000 people.[25] According to the Mail and Express , one of New York City's smaller afternoon newspapers:

The Cinematographe is having a successful run at the Eden Musee. This is due mainly to the new views that have been taken especially for the Musee. One of the latest and most interesting is that of Li Hung Chang's march into Fifth Avenue from Washington Square. Li Hung Chang can be readily recognized, as can many of the officials who accompanied him. Along each side of the avenue there is a great crowd of people waving their handkerchiefs and applauding. The thirty-five or more other views are equally lifelike and interesting. The views are all well chosen and occasionally a peculiar effect is produced by reversing the view. When this is done everything is entirely opposite from the first effect. The views are shown each hour during the afternoon and evening.[26]

There was a close affinity between the Eden Musee's waxworks and its moving pictures, both of which strove toward "a realistic representation of nature and life."

Although Hollaman chose to use the French cinématographe rather than the vitascope or projectoscope, he nonetheless added a wax figure of Thomas Edison to his collection in February 1897. Edison, who was sketched in his studio and donated a suit of clothes to cover his likeness, was shown "seated at a table on which are the drawing of the phonograph and one of the completed instruments. Edison is holding the tubes to his ears, listening to the first complete message ever inscribed on a phonograph cylinder."[27]

The Lumière cinématographe lasted only two months at the Eden Musee. On February 22d, a week after the Lumière service opened at Proctor's Pleasure


Palace, Hollaman introduced the cinématographe Joly as a "permanent feature" at his house. The new exhibition service was owned and operated by German emigré Eberhard Schneider. Musee publicity announced that the new machine "reproduced long scenes without noise and flickering of light on the screen. Many of the scenes take from three to five minutes, and each detail is strikingly exact."[28] A lecture and music accompanied the opening night performance, with views primarily from France.[29] In mid April the Musee shifted its emphasis to American views and renamed Joly's apparatus the "American Cinematograph."[30] By May, groups of American and foreign films were being shown on alternating hours.[31] Two or more films in a program often contained related subject matter, which was frequently noted as the principal or headline attraction.

Although New York had a population that was nearing three and a half million in 1897, the Eden Musee was the only amusement center in the city that committed itself to motion pictures on a full-time basis. Vaudeville managers thought of moving pictures as a popular turn that had to be replaced more or less frequently to keep the bill fresh and lively. Even B. F. Keith, whose organization evidenced the greatest enthusiasm for films, did not keep motion pictures on his Union Square theater bill all the time. After the Lumière cinématographe's five-month stay ended in late November 1896, manager J. Austin Fynes allowed seven weeks to go by before bringing in Biograph for a fifty-week run. Then the theater was once again without motion pictures. At the other extreme, Pastor's Theater had seven different motion picture engagements between mid January 1897 and early February 1898. These kept motion pictures on his bill for twelve of the sixty-five weeks. Other vaudeville theaters, including the Proctor theaters and Huber's 14th Street Museum, showed films periodically as well.[32] This gave the Eden Musee a unique role in New York City and, because New York was the center of motion picture activity, in the United States as a whole.

When a problem arose at the Eden Musee in mid 1897, Richard Hollaman increased his commitment to moving pictures when other managers might have backed away. On June 14th, Schneider's cinematograph started a fire that sent 1,500 patrons stampeding to the exits. The Musee's publicist minimized the narrowly avoided catastrophe, which came just over a month after the infamous Charity Bazaar fire in Paris, also started by a cinématographe Joly. Schneider lost his contract, and Hollaman brought back the Lumière cinématographe.[33] At the same time, Hollaman hired Frank Cannock to build a projecting apparatus for the Musee's use. This machine was installed at the Musee in August. "For months a skilled inventor has been working upon models and a new cinematograph will be placed on exhibition today," reported the New York Times . "It is a wonderful machine and the vibration is reduced to a minimum."[34] The Mail and Express added, "The new machine is superior to any that has been shown


before. It projects with the least flicker and looking at the picture does not weary the eyes."[35] Cannock worked with William Beadnell, who handled publicity for the Eden Musee, and with Edwin Porter, who joined the project in the summer of 1897 while he was projecting films in New York City.[36]

Hollaman's move may have inaugurated the American Cinematograph Company, an exhibition service based at Room 205, 5 Beekman Street, New York City. Although the nature of its relationship with the Musee remains somewhat hazy, the service must have been at least partially owned and controlled by the amusement enterprise.[37] As the Musee prospered, so too did this exhibition service.

Porter Operates and Builds Projectors

Having returned from his Caribbean tour after the theatrical season ended, Edwin S. Porter projected advertising films in Herald Square during the summer of 1897.[38] Although his name was not mentioned, the exhibition was reported in a trade journal for the motion picture and phonograph industries, the Phonoscope :

A very interesting and novel advertising exhibition is now being given on the roof of the building at 1321 Broadway, facing Herald Square.

Animated films are shown illustrating advertisements. The pictures were all by the International Film Co., 44 Broad Street, and are attracting the attention nightly of thousands of people. As an instance of the enterprise and hustle of the International Film Co., the Democratic Mayor was nominated on Thursday night and on Friday his picture was on the screen at 34th Street.[39]

Since this job for the International Film Company was performed at night, Porter helped with the construction of the Musee's cinematograph during the day.

After spending the summer months in New York, Porter and his former partner Harry J. Daniels joined with Professor V. W. Wormwood's Dog and Monkey Circus and toured Quebec and Nova Scotia in September and October (see document no. 4). Porter showed Lumière films of Queen Victoria's 1897 jubilee on a projectograph acquired from the International Film Company.[40] Showing a number of films that dealt with a single subject, Porter had to sequence these scenes into an order that gave a clear account of the ceremonies and maintained the audience's maximum interest. Harry Daniels undoubtedly provided a running commentary with the films. With people coming to see images of a significant event that had occurred on the other side of the Atlantic, the simple novelty of projected motion pictures was clearly in the past.[41] Porter and Daniels also helped to amuse patrons with pictures unrelated to the royal jubilee and illustrated songs. Although it was called "an unqualified success"


and played to large audiences, the troupe was short-lived.[42] By mid November Wormwood was on the vaudeville circuit and Porter was without a job.[43]


Wormwood's Monkey Theatre

Wormwood's Monkey theatre will play at the academy of music one week commencing September 27, and will give daily matinees, commencing Tuesday afternoon at 2:30. This company of unique entertainers consist of 31 monkeys and 24 dogs, who execute tricks that are highly amusing. They ride bicycles, turn somersaults, act as waiters, barbers, jugglers, fencers, comedians, and do many surprising and pleasing acts. These sober faced little animals are dressed like little old men and women, and understand and obey at the word of command. The scene at the races is very amusing. The dogs are harnessed to small sulkies and the monkies act as drivers; they make things lively as round the stage each one goes, trying to win the race. Another scene is the "Pardon Came Too Late," and is acted out in most human manner. As an extra attraction the management will present the latest projecting machine with new and startling views, including the Queen's jubilee parade and the Colonial and Indian troops. See the grand jubilee procession and the Queen in her carriage drawn by eight horses, and you will witness a sight of a life time and be as well pleased as though you were there at the time. Another attraction will be H. J. Daniels and his wooden family of talking children who never fail to please.

SOURCE : Halifax [Nova Scotia] Morning Chronicle , September 25, 1897, p. 5.

The Eden Musee Moves Into Production—The Passion Play

During the fall, the popular Eden Musee was turning away potential patrons for the first time in several years. On Sunday, October 3d, five thousand people were admitted and filled every seat in the Winter Garden.[44] With tickets 50¢ for adults and 25¢ for children, the box-office must have approached or exceeded $2,000 for one day. This was attributed to the fact that the Musee had begun to move into film production. "The popularity of the Cinematograph at the Eden Musee is as great as ever," reported the Mail and Express . "The fact that four times as many views are shown there as elsewhere is another reason for its popularity. In addition the Musee pictures are taken especially for the Musee and reproduced on the most perfect machine made, which was also perfected by the Musee."[45] To take its subjects, the Musee hired William Paley, a former x-ray exhibitor who had moved into the motion picture field after suffering the


adverse effects of radiation.[46] As the Musee's commitment to film expanded, other new employees were also needed.

Porter, who returned to New York after his Canadian tour, used his connection with Beadnell to get a job at the Musee as a motion picture operator.[47] It seems likely that he toiled on projector improvements reported early in 1898. In February refinements made the pictures "as perfect as possible." A month later further exertion reduced vibration and sharpened the image.[48] The image quality provided by different projectors varied widely during the 1890s, and specific improvements could substantially contribute to an exhibitor's success. Porter's mechanical flair was an important asset, giving him access to companies and situations unavailable to the average operator.

Hiring Porter roughly coincided with the Eden Musee's production of The Passion Play of Oberammergau . Late in 1897, after attending the opening film exhibition of The Horitz Passion Play in Philadelphia,[49] Musee president Richard Hollaman resolved to produce a filmed reenactment of the famous Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany. He enlisted the aid of Albert G. Eaves, who had the costumes and script from Salmi Morse's thwarted theatrical production of the Passion Play. Henry C. Vincent, a stage director at Niblo's Garden Theater, was employed to select the actors, paint the scenery, and supervise the production on the rooftop of Grand Central Palace.[50] According to Terry Ramsaye, "One of the major difficulties encountered arose from the fact that the director, the aged and authoritative Vincent, believed that he was making a series of lantern slides for stereopticon presentation. All efforts to explain to him that the camera recorded motion continuously failed entirely. It was Vincent's practice to put the company into rehearsal and when a striking moment arrived to dash out before the camera and scream 'Hold it!'"[51] Filming took six weeks. Using subterfuge, the Musee's cameraman William Paley and the actors finally shot twenty-three scenes, totaling approximately 2,000 feet. These were projected at approximately thirty frames per second, giving roughly nineteen minutes of screen time.[52]

The films, which were recently found and preserved by the George Eastman House, were taken with a distant, static camera. Frontal compositions, while often effective, seem to derive from a stage performance. The bare sets and narrative simplicity at least evoke the reputed folk culture of the Oberammergau peasants. Although the Eden Musee implied that the films showed that famed Passion Play , critics quickly dismissed the ruse, since it had last been performed in 1890, well before Edison's kinetograph had been invented. "Nor do these pictures even approach a close imitation of the Oberammergau play," remarked one knowledgeable reviewer. "Of the twenty-three scenes shown yesterday seven do not occur at all in the play of Oberammergau, which begins with the entry of Christ into Jerusalem."[53] Similarities to the Morse Passion Play , never successfully produced in New York, were noted.[54]


The Musee's films were only one element in an extensive, complex program. According to the Phonoscope , the addition of lantern slides in keeping with the subject produced an entertainment of approximately two hours.[55] These images were accompanied by a lecturer who stood next to the screen and by an unseen organist and vocalists. The results were shown publicly for the first time on January 28, 1898, though its official premiere came three days later.[56] Reactions and reviews were more positive than anticipated.[57] The New York World , for instance, praised the production:



A series of Passion Play pictures is now being presented at the Eden Musee by the cinematograph. The scenes have been reproduced from sketches at the time of the last presentation of the biblical drama given at Oberammergau. The motion pictures were secured from a representation given in this country by actors garbed in the costume drawn from these designs and drilled in the various tableaux. Twenty-three scenes are shown, beginning with the shepherds watching their flocks and ending with the ascension. The best of them were the flight into Egypt, the raising of Lazarus, the crucifixion and the descent from the cross. The exhibition made a decidedly favorable impression and will doubtless be the means of attracting many visitors to this popular place of amusement.[58]

The Passion Play was shown twice a day—at 3 in the afternoon and 9 in the evening—for the following three months and periodically thereafter. Over 30,000 people saw it during the first three weeks, with ministers and church people making up the bulk of the audience.[59] The program thus attracted the types of culturally conservative, middle-class patrons that the Musee had always publicly courted.

The Musee's Passion Play was an extension and revitalization of a lantern show that was familiar to most Americans. The typical illustrated lecture on the Oberammergau Passion had, since John Stoddard's first lectures in 1880, shown the events surrounding the play as well as the play itself.[60] The simple life of the Oberammergau woodcarvers who assumed roles in the production, the arrival and accommodation of the tourists, and views outside the theater, all provided a context for the presentation of the play. The Musee's Passion Play continued this tradition. While the play was shown using motion photography, heightening the intensity and realism of the theatrical experience, it was embedded in a static world of stock travel slides. Later, after the 1900 performance of the play, four scenes filmed in the village were sold with the Passion Play films: Trains Loaded with Tourists Arriving at Oberammergau, Opening of the Great Amphitheatre Doors for Intermission, Street Scene in Oberammergau , and Anton Lange's House .[61] These films were undoubtedly meant to supplement or replace some of



The Passion Play of Oberammergau. Two scenes "reenacted" on an open-air stage in New York City. 
The train scene was taken in Oberammergau at the time of the 1900 performance.

the slides used in earlier programs. In 1898 the different materials—slides and film—emphasized the different pro-filmic elements: films/theatrical reenactment versus slides/nontheatrical actualities.

The combining of slides and films was a common exhibition practice during this period. The Musee's Passion Play well illustrates the reasons for these choices.

1. Visual pleasure. The technology for projecting moving pictures was still sufficiently primitive to strain the eyes. A combination of "flicker" and "shakiness" quickly reduced the viewer's satisfaction. In Animated Photography , Cecil Hepworth felt, "the best plan is to show one or two slides between each animated photograph. The still photograph is a great relief to the eyes and a thorough rest after the more or less tiring living photographs."[62]

2. Cinematic effect . The contrast between static and moving photo-


graphs could be dramatically effective and "relieve the monotony of a simple stereopticon entertainment with the interesting features of a moving picture."[63] At the same time, the larger photographic slides had more detail and allowed for skillful tinting.

3. Diversity of images and supply . The exhibitor had many more photographic slides to choose from in comparison to films. Many types of images were only available as still photographs or even as drawings mechanically transferred to glass.

4. Cost . Films were extremely expensive and few exhibitors could afford a program consisting exclusively of moving pictures. By combining slides and films, C. Francis Jenkins suggested, an exhibitor could "occupy an entire evening and at the same time present the attractiveness of a moving picture entertainment, but at much less expense."[64]

The little that has been written about cinema during the late 1890s often focuses on the distinction between a few longer, important films, of which The Passion Play is a prime example, and the many short films that are generally considered less significant.[65] This analysis creates a false distinction. The Passion Play was not a single film but a program composed of as many as twenty-three discrete scenes, each of which was its own "film," and an unknown quantity of slides. Such confusion equates the films that were produced with what was shown—an equation arising in part because the Musee was both the producer and the best-known exhibitor of these films.

The functions of film production and exhibition were independent: programs were by no means fixed but could be altered in their length, order, narration, or format. On February 18th, for instance, the Musee added a choir of boys chanting anthems to its program. By late March the accompanying lecture by Professor Powell had been extended and the choir boys were singing new anthems.[66] Moreover, the success of The Passion Play led the Musee to send out at least two touring companies in early March to give exhibitions in other theaters. These had different lecturers, performers, and formats to facilitate moving from town to town.[67]

When Hollaman's Passion Play films were later offered for sale by the Edison Company, they could be purchased individually or as a group.[68] Sigmund Lubin and William Selig subsequently produced rival film versions of the Passion Play that were also sold on a scene-by-scene basis. Selig actually suggested five different programs using either 25, 20, 15, 12, or 9 films.[69] Exhibitors who could not afford the entire series made a selection based on their resources and preferences. They could purchase additional films at a later date and/or combine films from different companies. The exhibitor was dealing with two different units: (1) the short individual film that paralleled the slide as a primary unit subject to editorial manipulation, and (2) the program constructed out of these


slides and films, which was never standardized. There was no "definitive" version, and in this sense never a finished, complete work that achieved permanent closure.

The Passion Play was a major cinematic event and one that quickly turned the Eden Musee into an Edison licensee. With the program appearing shortly after Edison's legal offensive had begun, the inventor brought suit against Richard Hollaman and the entertainment center for patent infringement on February 7th.[70] An accommodation was reached two weeks later, not only with the Musee, which turned its Passion Play negatives over to the Edison Manufacturing Company, but with William Paley. On March 7th, Paley received a contractual letter from William Gilmore outlining arrangements under which he was to take films (see document no. 5). With James White still in the Far East, the Edison Company placed this experienced cameraman under contract. His first assignment was to make films relating to the Spanish-American War.


Orange, N.J., March 7, 1898.

Wm. Paley, Esq.,


c/o Eden Musee


23rd St., New York

Dear Sir:-

With further reference to the subject of the arrangement to be made with you, the conclusions reached between us are as follows: It is our idea that you will continue to take original negatives of animated pictures for us, such an arrangement to cover a period of one year from February 21, 1898, the necessary negative stock to be furnished by us, punched ready for use, without charge, in our regular standard lengths, which for the first strip is about 50 feet, and longer strips multiples thereof, up to about 150 feet, we to allow you an upset price for such negatives of Fifteen Dollars ($15.00) net on all accepted by us. All positives made from such accepted negatives are to be sold by us in the open market at regular rates, we undertaking to list the subjects in our regular catalogues from time to time as they are issued, and to have them listed whenever and wherever possible in any catalogues gotten out by our various agents or representatives. Where a special subject is to be taken, requiring an additional amount of money over and above the $15.00 above referred to, to cover actual traveling or other similar expenses, in addition to furnishing the negative stock we would of course be perfectly willing to confer with you and agree upon an amount to be paid in addition for any such expenses.

In consideration of your giving us a portion of your time and services in the furnishing of satisfactory negatives as above outlined, we agree to>

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pay you a royalty of Thirty Cents (30 cents) on each positive strip sold by us, either directly or indirectly, from each 50 (about) feet negative, the longer strips to be paid for on the same basis at a proportionately higher rate, such royalties to be paid monthly, we submitting a sworn statement as to the number of films sold from the negatives furnished by yourself. It is of course mutually understood between us that this arrangement is not exclusive in any way, we reserving the right to make similar arrangements with other parties should it be deemed by us wise to do so. It is also understood that the royalty so paid you does not apply in any way to negatives taken by ourselves or by others for our account, and it is further understood that the royalty is not to be paid on the so-called "Passion Play" pictures which we are now making under arrangement with Messers. Richard G. Hollaman and Albert G. Eaves, or to the subjects taken from the "Second Act of Martha."

This arrangement can be terminated by either party upon ninety days' written notice. In event of the arrangement being terminated by either party at any time, it is understood that the negatives in our possession shall so continue, and as long as there is any demand for positive strips from such negatives by you, we shall continue to pay you the royalty, just the same as if the contract was in full force and effect.

I believe the above covers the understanding in full between us. If you have any further suggestions to offer, please let me know at once; otherwise let us have your approval in writing.

Yours very truly,

(Signed) W. E. Gilmore

General Manager


The Spanish-American War

The sinking of the Maine and the Spanish-American War were a boon to the American film industry, as cinema regained a wide audience. Prior to these events, New York exhibitors were suffering through yet another period of underutilization. Even Keith's had let the Biograph service go after a year-long run. Once again, the Eden Musee was the only amusement center advertising a film exhibition in local papers.[71] When Biograph opened at Proctor's Pleasure Palace on February 14th, this situation would not have changed significantly— except that the Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor the following day.

Within a week after the explosion, Pleasure Palace audiences were seeing "the ill-fated Battleship Maine" — actually a film of her sister ship—on the screen. The Musee, which had previously highlighted developments in Cuba, may have hired Biograph to show similar films when the Musee's cinemato-


graph was not showing The Passion Play .[72] By mid March, the "wonderful Biograph" was arousing patriotic enthusiasm with scenes related to the Maine , views of the Spanish ship Vizcaya , which had recently visited New York harbor, and "counterfeit presentments" of Consul General Fitzhugh Lee, who headed the inquiry into the "Maine" explosion, and of Charles Sigsbee, the ship's captain. Such inflammatory subjects were deemed "highly instructive."[73]

As President McKinley wavered between war and reconciliation with Spain, the "new" or "yellow" journalism of William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World worked hand in hand with the music halls and theaters to incite Americans' warlike spirit. During the early part of the day, many New Yorkers read detailed descriptions of the latest Spanish atrocities and perused Journal editorials that declared, "A war would show first of all, what sort of stuff this country is made of, and what kind of men it has produced in the last thirty years."[74] Later in the day, these people might attend the theater, where patriotic songs encouraged group demonstrations. Biograph's exhibitions often provoked loud applause or hisses (depending on the subject). A film of the American flag at the conclusion of each program guaranteed long, hysterical cheers. The press gave such outbursts extensive coverage, and the World claimed that they indicated "the temper of the people in the present crisis."[75] Audience enthusiasm encouraged the Biograph Company to send cameramen to Havana, where they photographed noteworthy scenes. At the end of March, these films were being shown at the Pleasure Palace. These "Life-Motion Views" presented "the Wreck of the Maine, Divers Ascending and Descending, Consul General Lee at His Residence, The Reconcentrados, etc."[76] A week later, the Eden Musee was showing the same Biograph views. "The workings of the divers are plainly seen," reported the Mail and Express . "These views aroused much enthusiasm, and when a fluttering United States flag was shown nearly everyone present, including women, cheered."[77]

Neither the Edison Company nor the Eden Musee could afford to tolerate the Biograph Company's monopoly of war films. Biograph was Edison's major commercial rival, while the Musee had few war subjects for its cinematograph and was forced to spend substantial sums on the Biograph service, which nonetheless first exhibited its films elsewhere. These organizations and Edison's selling agent F. Z Maguire accordingly made arrangements with Hearst's New York Journal and dispatched William Paley to Florida and Cuba.[78] Hearst not only made his news yachts available to the Edison cameraman for transportation and as a platform for taking films, he paid for Paley's trip.[79] His was "the journalism that acts."[80]

Paley, still recovering from an illness, left his sickbed in mid March and headed for Key West, Florida.[81] There he worked closely with Karl C. Decker, a Hearst journalist, taking one-shot films related to the crisis. On the 27th he filmed Burial of the "Maine" Victims . For War Correspondents , the two staged



Burial of the "Maine" Victims.

a good-natured foot race among reporters, who were supposedly taking "war copy" to the telegraph office. Decker followed up the rear in a carriage, coming in last. (The Journal , failing to see the humor in this arrangement, described the scene by asserting that Decker beat his rivals.) Another film depicted Decker on the decks of the Journal's despatch yacht Buccaneer . Paley and Decker also used the despatch yacht's decks for filming views of Admiral Sampson's fleet in the Dry Tortugas, southwest of Key West (U.S. Battleship "Iowa ").[82] Although the cameraman and journalist made three attempts to film in the vicinity of Havana Harbor, only two scenes were successfully taken: Wreck of the Battleship "Maine " and Morro Castle, Havana Harbor .[83] In fact, with the sole exception of Burial of the "Maine" Victims (150 feet), all the films were only 50 feet in length—ideally suited for the active editorial intervention of the exhibitor (see document no. 6).



Wreck of the Battleship "Maine."



Crowd at Proctor's Theatre

Shows Its Approval of Enterprise.


Funeral of the Maine Victims Enrages the Big Audience.

At Proctor's Theatre last night enthusiastic crowds cheered the Journal to the echo as they watched the War-graph throw upon the giant screen the pictures which the Journal's correspondents had secured of the scenes attending the prosecution of the war in Cuba.

In these days of excitement it takes a good deal to stir a big theatre audience to any great display of feeling unless applause is drawn from it by patriotic songs and a liberal waving of flags, but the people last night showed that they appreciated the service the Journal has done for humanity by giving to the simple black and white depiction of the War-graph the same outburst of applause that greeted the National anthem.

There were pictures of all sorts, the grave, the gay and the grewsome [sic ]. The battle ship Maine was shown as she steamed serenely into Havana harbor and then, later, there were thrown upon the screen the Journal's own picture of the wreck, the skeleton arms of the wrecking derricks

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stretched above her and the buzzard like fleet of Spanish patrol boats circling about that which was once a ship of the United States Navy.

It may have been accident or design that made the operator slip in a slide that threw the banner of Spain on the screen, but the hisses that assailed it fluttered the curtains and caused a man who had tucked a wide brimmed hat under his chair to make a suggestive move toward his hip pocket. Then there followed upon the screen the title: "Funeral of the Victims of the Blowing Up of the Maine."

When the glitter of the wargraph shone out again it showed a scene familiar enough, in its crystallized state, to the readers of the Journal, but which, when shown as it was at Proctor's Theatre last night, gained a significance and a reality that no newspaper could produce.

The orchestra hushed and a bugler behind the scenes began to play that sad, last call, "Taps," as a company of blue jackets swung around the corner of the pictured scene. In the midst of them could be plainly distinguished a dingy, one-horse landau, with a crepe-draped coffin within it.

"One," said the spectators. Next second it was "Two," and so the grim count went on. There seemed to be miles of that awful procession of the dead, which the Journal's camera had caught. It was not mere photographic repetition: the crowd soon saw that. It was the real thing, and as the full horror of that cowardly murder swept through the theatre a sigh went up that not even the lighter pictures which followed could change to a smile.

During an interval James Thornton, the comedian, read from the stage some of the Journal's bulletins of the progress of the war, and more cheers were given for American successes.

Then followed more pictures: The race of the newspaper correspondents in Havana to catch the outgoing boat with a red-hot piece of news; General Lee descending the steps of the American Consulate; the distribution by the Journal of supplies and medicines to the starving reconcentrados, and a picture of the President.

General Lee seems to be the popular hero of these days. He gets every bit as much cheering as the President, if not a little more. Another thing that the crowd at Proctor's Theatre showed was that not even the fever of war can take the innate chivalry out of the American people. It is the custom to announce every picture before it is thrown on the screen, and the advance sign said "The Queen Regent of Spain."

There were some scattering hisses, but when the projector threw upon the canvas the pictures of a woman—a woman who looked as if she had suffered—the hisses died away. Once again there was a flicker and the sign said "The King of Spain." Again came the hisses, but when there was shown out on the screen the picture of a little boy in knickerbockers,

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sitting in a chair that looked several sizes too large for him and wearing a distinctly pathetic appearance, the hisses vanished in a flutter of actual applause and a feminine murmur of "Oh, pshaw, he's only a little bit of a boy."

SOURCE : New York Journal and Advertiser , April 26, 1898, p. 13. This exhibition was almost certainly mounted by the American Cinematograph Company, with which Porter was associated. Several things may be noted about this account. Some films, for instance War Correspondents , were given a different context (Havana rather than Key West). The exhibition included as many slides as films: not only title slides but photographs of the Spanish flag, queen and king. Although the presentation reveals only a tentative narrative progression, the program was devoted to a single subject around which the audience's emotions were skillfully manipulated.

Less than a week after Paley's return, his pictures had been copyrighted by Thomas Edison and prints were being sold to impatient film exhibitors. The demand was so great that Paley, who had returned to New York on April 15th, returned to Florida on April 21st in anticipation of a declaration of war, which came four days later. Maguire advanced $500 to Paley against the cameraman's future royalties and may have provided him with film stock, but he told Gilmore: "As Mr. Paley is practically spending his own money, you can readily understand that this is a very good arrangement for us. The trip will practically cost us nothing."[84]

On his second trip, Paley went to Tampa, Florida, and photographed scenes of military preparations (10th U.S. Infantry Disembarking from Cars ) and everyday scenes of military life (9th Infantry Boys' Morning Wash ). Several views of Cuban refugees were also taken (Cuban Refugees Waiting for Rations ). Camp scenes became more and more common as Paley waited for the invasion of Cuba to commence (Blanket Tossing a New Recruit and 9th and 13th U.S. Infantry at Battalion Drill ). On June 8th, the patient cameraman took Roosevelt's Rough Riders Embarking for Santiago and other scenes of troops boarding transports. The soldiers baked for a week under Tampa's ferocious sun; it was not until June 22d that they landed at Baiquiri, Cuba (commonly spelt "Daiquiri"). Paley along with other correspondents probably accompanied the convoy on the Olivette. U.S. Troops Landing at Daiquiri, Cuba and Mules Swimming Ashore at Daiquiri, Cuba perhaps taken from this ship, were said to be of the first American soldiers to reach Cuban soil.[85]

Once Paley reached Cuban soil, transporting the portly cameraman and his equipment proved a nightmarish task, particularly with the shortage of horses. Aided by an army teamster, he finally reached general headquarters and photographed Major General Shafter , showing the obese commander astride his horse. Paley took only a few additional subjects (Troops Making a Military Road in Front of Santiago; Packing Ammunition on Mules, Cuba ) before disaster struck. The wagon carrying his baggage broke down, exposing photogra-



71st N.Y. Volunteers Embarking for Santiago.

pher and apparatus to a night-long rainstorm. The camera stopped working, Paley came down with a fever, and his Cuban expedition was ended. With the assistance of Charles E. Hands of the London Daily Mail , he reached a resupply point and went home dangerously ill.[86]

By April 18th, Paley's films were being shown at the Eden Musee, which acted as a center for war news and patriotic demonstrations:

The Cuban wax works attracted much attention there last evening and the new figure of General Lee was continually surrounded by his admirers. The orchestra gave a concert of patriotic selections, including the battle hymns of civilized countries. The cinematograph exhibited new pictures taken in and about Havana Harbor by the Musee's artist and also pictures of American battleships at anchor and in movements, cavalry dashes, sham battles and National Guards on the march. Frequently the patriotism of the audience would rise to such an extent that there would be cheering.[87]

Enjoying its own supply of war films (via Paley), the Musee ended its Passion Play performances on May 4th, after two hundred exhibitions. Henceforth, all its energies were concentrated on sustaining the bellicose mood of New Yorkers. On May 7th, a week after Commodore George Dewey's victory in Manila Bay,



Advertisement for Edison "War Films."

his wax figure was on display in the Musee foyer. Meanwhile, Porter and his immediate boss, Eugene Elmore, showed "scenes from Havana, of the American warships, the sunken Maine, the Maine crew, burial of the Maine sailors and other views taken in and about Havana harbor and Key West. In addition are views of sham battles, infantry maneuvers and target practice."[88] Exhibitions devoted exclusively to the war were given hourly. Some focused on a particular aspect of the struggle, while others were more eclectic. New views were shown on a weekly basis into the summer. Many "were taken by the Musee's own artist, and are different from those shown at other places."[89]

The Cuban crisis and Spanish-American war brought moving pictures into an unprecedented number of metropolitan theaters.[90] One week after war was declared, the Eden Musee was one of at least seven Manhattan theaters showing war films—one more than at the novelty highpoint a year and a half earlier.[91] Porter and his associates at the American Cinematograph Company operated one of several exhibition services that took advantage of the resulting demand for film programs. In a later interview, Porter stated that he and William Beadnell supplied several vaudeville houses with film turns. "We had machines in the Eden Musee, in the Proctor houses and also some of Percy Williams."[92] Spring programs at Proctor's 23rd Street Theater were consistent with the supply of films available down the street at the Eden Musee, but the American cinematograph was replaced by Blackton and Smith's burgeoning American



Developing motion picture film in 1898-99.

Vitagraph Company toward the end of June. Blackton and Smith had developed a secret reframing device that improved their exhibitions. They had also established their own production capabilities. Since the American Cinematograph Company had to give preferential treatment to the Musee, the switch was a logical one.

Porter and Elmore were partially responsible for the addition of American Vitagraph to the Edison stable of licensees.[93] Perhaps they visited Blackton and Smith's offices to gather evidence of illegality that would enable them to regain their old outlet at Proctor's. Or perhaps they hoped to purchase some of Blackton and Smith's original productions to enhance their collection. Instead, they and other potential purchasers found dupes of Paley's war films. Thomas Edison soon sued Vitagraph for copyright and patent infringement, with Elmore and Porter providing depositions to support the case. Caught red-handed, Blackton and Smith reached an agreement with William Gilmore whereby they would not contest Edison's suit, but would work under a licensing arrangement similar to that made with the Eden Musee and William Paley.

Programs at the Musee were being constantly updated and changed, a challenging task for Porter and Elmore, who had to experiment with novel combinations of subjects. In June moving pictures were exhibited while a soloist sang national airs.[94] Later in the month, with the largest collection of war films in the city, the Musee began to show them all on Sundays at 3 and 9, giving "an


opportunity to thousands to see these remarkable pictures at a slight cost."[95] The Musee's motion picture operators arranged the films as a chronology of the war: "The Maine sailors on parade are shown and then the Maine sailing into Havana harbor. Following is the burial of the Maine sailors, General Lee at Havana, other scenes in and about Havana, the various camps, soldiers at drill, battleships at anchor and in action, troops leaving Tampa for Santiago and other equally vivid scenes up to the storming of Santiago."[96] Audience response to the films was so enthusiastic that many of the pictures had to be shown a second time.[97]

The Eden Musee generally used its screen as a kind of patriotic news service. In August the entertainment center was showing one new war view each day. With over one hundred films in its collection, the motion picture operators showed twelve views each hour during the week, changing subjects each hour so visitors could stay as long as they liked and see different views.[98] By the end of August, their collection had swelled to nearly two hundred.[99] As soldiers returned from war in September, the Musee enjoyed a special kind of status:

The Eden Musee is becoming a headquarters for the soldiers in this city. Since they returned scarcely a day passes that at least 500 do not visit the Musee. The majority of the Rough Riders have been there. They praise the war groups and take the greatest interest in the war pictures. The pictures taken in and about Santiago are cheered, and often have to be shown again. The other visitors take almost as much interest in the soldiers as in the attractions at the Musee. Little groups frequently surround the soldiers and question them about the war, and there is not an attendant in the house who has not a choice collection of souvenirs given him by the soldiers. On Wednesday Gen. Wheeler dropped into the Musee. He was recognized almost instantly and received cheers and greetings from the soldiers and visitors. One of the Musee's artists made sketches, and a figure of the popular hero will soon be on exhibition.[100]

The Eden Musee was thus dedicated to heroicizing the United States' imperial adventures and those who implemented its policy—not least of whom was Col. Theodore Roosevelt, soon to be elected governor of New York.

By November, Porter and Elmore had responded to the fading popularity of war views by taking a more documentary-like approach to their subject matter.[101] As the Musee announced,

Since the beginning of the war with Spain cinematograph war views have been shown at the Eden Musee. The Musee's own artist took the pictures, and as fast as they were developed, they were shown. A genuine novelty in these pictures has now been arranged. It is the nature of a panorama of the whole war. The moving picture scenes begin with the arrival of soldiers at Tampa and include various important movements that followed, up to the surrender of Santiago. Over twenty views are shown. Among them are the Red Cross upon the field, Colonel Astor setting out to meet General Toral, artillery practice, Rough Riders landing, battle of San Juan, troopships in a storm, the surrender of General Toral, the raising of the Stars and Stripes over Santiago


and many other important scenes. All the pictures are accompanied by ingenious effects, including martial music, firing of guns and wind and rain.[102]

The Musee staff moved toward an increasingly elaborate, narrative account of the war. While it is impossible to ascertain Porter's precise contribution to the construction of program-length narratives such as Panorama of the War , as the Musee's chief motion picture operator he must have been intimately involved in the editorial process. Although this creation of complex film programs with extended narrative sequences was then common,[103] the Musee's unique position encouraged experimentation with film structures. The institution not only had a diverse selection of films, but regular customers who had to be entertained with new film combinations within this repertoire. The continual restructuring of programs was facilitated by the mechanics of exhibition. Films were not spliced together on a single reel, but threaded individually onto the projector (otherwise it would have been impossible to show the same subject twice in response to audience demand). While detailed programmes of these exhibitions do not survive—if they ever existed—documentation for similar programs is suggestive. Although the Musee may have had two moving picture machines, allowing one film to be juxtaposed against another, slides were a popular, though typically unmentioned, part of these programs. Vitagraph and Eberhard Schneider showed slides taken by New York Herald photographers as well as films.[104] Producers and distributors, including Sigmund Lubin and the Stereopticon & Film Exchange, urged exhibitors to purchase films and slides of the war and to combine them into an evening-length program with lecture.[105] A lecture may well have continued to be part of the Musee's programs as well.

Panorama of the War is comparable in many respects to more recent documentaries using silent stock footage-though the modes of production and exhibition are radically different. At the Musee, post-production was located in the projection booth and achieved on the screen rather than in the editing room and on the projection print. With showmen responsible for post-production, creative contributions were made by both cameramen and exhibitors. Paley's films from the war zone turned the motion picture photographer into a vaudeville hero, but the editorial arrangement of scenes and the live sound accompaniment were created in places like the Musee. Drawing from the same material, exhibitors produced their own distinctive programs—priding themselves on the quality and originality of their individual exhibitions. Not only did each have creative responsibility, they often claimed authorship of their programs— assertions that had much validity.

Both The Passion Play and Panorama of the War demonstrate that cinema in the late 1890s had the capacity to convey information and to affect its audiences both emotionally and intellectually in ways that were far more sophisticated than acknowledged in existing film histories. These histories, based on naive readings of a few catalogs and vaudeville programs, have virtually ignored



Ringling Brothers Circus showed war films, organizing them into a longer narrative called "The Story of Cuba."

the crucial role of the exhibitor. Rather than being isolated units within a miscellaneous collection of subjects, these short films were often elements of a larger, integrated program. While these programs were generally dependent on a lecture, this does not mean they lacked effective and comparatively elaborate visual structures.

During the late 1890s, there was a dialectical tension between unified programs built around a single event, theme, or narrative and the variety format, with its emphasis on novelty and diversity. The Eden Musee favored the former. The New York exhibitor Eberhard Schneider was at the other extreme, often emphasizing variety to the point of separating films that had a thematic relationship. In one program, for instance, Schneider placed Snowballing between Spanish Attack on an American Camp and Charge of American Cavalry ; then Storm at Sea between Execution of a Spy, Turco-Grecian War and Defense of a House, Turco-Grecian War .[106] American Vitagraph, in contrast, fluctuated between these two extremes and often offered its audiences a middle ground. One point seems evident. Porter received a very particular kind of training at the Eden Musee, training that sensitized him to the possibilities inherent in the significant juxtaposition of related images. The use of editorial procedures was arguably most advanced at the Eden Musee, and it should not surprise us that one of its graduates was to continue to make strides in this area when he moved into production with the Edison Company at the beginning of 1901.

Porter and the Eden Musee After the War

Once the Spanish-American War ended in early August 1898, the number of Manhattan theaters showing moving pictures steadily declined. During the last week of August, films were still advertised for five theaters, in October for only


four. By early November Proctor's Pleasure Palace had dropped its exhibition service, "much to the relief of the regular patrons."[107] Only Keith's and the Eden Musee were still boasting moving pictures in mid December. The Musee remained the sole Manhattan venue offering 35mm motion pictures as a permanent part of its programming. With audiences tired of war films, the Eden Musee began to show different kinds of subject matter, including views of foreign lands.[108] Elmore and Porter continued to feature Panorama of the War , but alternated it with a program of comic scenes early in December, a series of Christmas views during the holidays, and "illusions and reproductions of fairy tales" in mid January.[109] Even when not seeing war films, the Musee's patrons enjoyed thematically structured programs, which made its exhibitions distinctive.

New material relating to the American occupation of Cuba provided occasionally popular attractions. "For several days an artist of the Musee has been in Havana gathering interesting scenes," announced the Musee at the beginning of the new year. "He will remain there for several weeks and when the U.S. takes formal control on January 1st, he will make pictures of the stirring scenes, including the novelty of the flag over Morro Castle. The Govt. has given the artist permission to use forward positions."[110] Two surviving films, General Lee's Procession, Havana and Troops at Evacuation of Havana , show American troops marching through the streets of the former colonial capital.

The Opera of Martha , which Paley had shot almost a year earlier, was also presented for the first time in January. The Castle Square Opera Company, which had performed the opera at New York's American Theater early in 1898, probably provided the actors and even the sets.[111] With The Passion Play of Oberammergau and then the war films drawing large crowds, the Musee had delayed its exhibition. Publicity announced that "The entire second act of 'Martha' will be reproduced by the moving picture machine. As the pictures are shown the music is sung from behind the screen."[112] The picture "consisted of five scenes about 1,300 feet in length: 1. Duet outside the Inn, 2. Quartette in- side the Inn, 3. Spinning Wheel Chorus, 4. Martha singing 'Last Rose of Summer,' and 5. Goodnight Quartette. The film shows a quartette of well-known opera singers acting and singing their parts in this ever popular opera."[113]The Opera of Martha , like The Passion Play , was an extended effort at filmed theater. The exhibitor's sound accompaniment, however, was not presented in front of the screen by a lecturer explaining the images, but from behind the canvas to heighten the illusion of reality by synchronizing voice to the image. Today it can be considered an early form of dubbing. In July 1899 Richard Hollaman sold this film, along with The Passion Play , to Thomas Edison for $1,000.[114]

During the winter and spring of 1899, the Musee revived old programs and showed news films of noteworthy events. Travel scenes, humorous vignettes, and historical subjects were exhibited in programs grouped by genre, with two


different groupings exhibited alternately during a week. By the spring, "mysterious" films were receiving extensive press attention. These trick films, particularly Georges Méliês' "Houdin films,"[115] were the perfect antidote for a year of war topicals. Many gave "an illusionary or supernatural effect," while others were declared to be "exceedingly humorous."[116] Méliês' creations remained popular at the Eden Musee throughout the year, culminating in Cinderella , which was shown over the Christmas holidays.

While working at the Eden Musee, Porter continued to manufacture motion picture equipment. During the summer of 1899, he built "the cameras, the printing machines and projecting machines for the Palmer-McGovern Fight."[117] These were made for the American Sportagraph Company, which carefully emulated the Veriscope organization. The Veriscope Company had filmed the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight in March 1897 using a special-sized film that required its own cameras, printers, and projectors.[118] This gave the Veriscope Company absolute control over its exhibitions and generated large profits from its numerous road shows. The American Sportagraph Company hoped for the same good fortune, and Porter's equipment was well suited to the challenge. The sportagraph had a special large-size film that yielded a superior image. It could run on either direct or alternating current, weighed only thirty pounds, and could be set up in less than an hour.[119] Porter's experience as a traveling exhibitor and his knowledge of various projecting machines enabled him to produce a sophisticated instrument that avoided many of its predecessors' shortcomings.

The sportagraph's main attraction was the fight between "Pedlar" Palmer, the bantamweight champion of England, and Terry McGovern, the bantam-weight champion of America. They were to meet on September 11, 1899, at the Westchester Athletic Club in Lake Tuckahoe, New York—a convenient fifteen miles by railroad from midtown Manhattan. The fight was expected to be "one of the greatest boxing matches ever engaged in."[120] With the fight as its headline attraction, the American Sportagraph Company also planned to show "photographic reproductions of noted horse, Bicycle, foot and yacht races, sculling matches, wrestling contests and other outdoor exercises and amusements with the stars of the sporting world as contestants."[121] Between the various moving pictures, high-class vaudeville acts were to be given "to make one of the strongest two and a half hour shows on the road."[122]

When the weather on September 11th was overcast, making it impossible to take pictures, the organizers postponed the fight. "Now, we have contracted to show the pictures in all parts of the world, and you can realize what a loss it would mean to go on without them," promoter Gray explained. "I am sure the public will rightly see how I stand in the matter."[123] The dispirited, but surprisingly understanding, crowd left, only to return the following day, when the cameras and eight thousand people watched Terry McGovern, "the pride of


South Brooklyn," defeat his opponent in two minutes and thirty seconds, less than a round. The fight was a major disappointment to boxing aficionados. Lacking its headline attraction, the American Sportagraph Company fell into oblivion. The Palmer-McGovern pictures, with their odd-sized film gauge, received no commercial distribution whatsoever. Philadelphia filmmaker Sigmund Lubin usurped the limited market for this subject by marketing a "reproduction of the fight showing the introduction, full fight and knockdown" in less than 400 feet.[124] If, as seems likely, Porter and the American Cinematograph Company were financially involved in this venture, they suffered a serious setback.

Porter had little time to ponder the sportagraph's failure, since the Eden Musee was preparing for Admiral Dewey's triumphal arrival in New York City on September 27th:

The Eden Musee will add much to the Dewey celebration. For months its artists and sculptors have been at work arranging pleasing surprises. The interior of the Musee has been changed in many respects, and new war groups and war scenes in wax will cause the Musee to look like the interior of an arsenal. The Cinematograph will give hourly exhibitions of moving pictures taken in Cuba, Porto Rico and the Philippines. The whole front of the Musee Building will be arranged in the form of a mammoth battleship. From the top of the front will arise a mast similar to that of a warship. Nearly forty feet above the building will be a turret, in which will be two sailors with rapid-firing guns. At the sides of the top will be other sailors, apparently on deck. On each side of the front will be a mammoth gold eagle. In the center will be a still larger eagle which will measure thirty feet from tip to tip. Over 10,000 yards of flags and bunting will assist in carrying out the form of the battleship. Each entrance to the Musee will be arranged as the gangway of a battleship. Over each door will be the name of the warship represented.[125]

This coordinated programming, built around a particular event, was characteristic of the Musee, distinguishing it from the more common vaudeville format of entertainment, with its emphasis on variety.

James White, having long ago returned from his Far Eastern voyage, organized the Edison licensees so they could effectively cover the celebration. Altogether the Edison Company put eight camera crews in the field.[126] White reserved for himself the honor of filming Dewey on board his ship. The resulting pictures, Admiral Dewey Receiving the Washington and New York Committees and Admiral Dewey Taking Leave of Washington Committee on the U.S. Cruiser "Olympia " (taken on September 28th), were shown the following day and given special attention:

As a compliment to Thomas A. Edison, Admiral Dewey gave permission for taking Cinematograph pictures of the visit to the Olympia of the Reception Committee and Gov. Roosevelt. The picture is shown at each of the performances at the Eden Musee to crowded audiences, and has elicited storms of applause. Admiral Dewey is seen pacing the deck awaiting the committee and the Governor. The clearness of the picture


brings the spectator side by side, as it were, with the hero of the day. His every movement is as clearly defined as is his greeting of the committee and the Governor as they step on the deck of the Olympia from the ladder swung by the side of the vessel.[127]

"Interesting views of the land and naval parades" were added later in the week.[128] The Musee, like the Edison Company, recognized that flag-waving and a sympathetic treatment of America's imperial adventures reaped rewards at the box-office.

The end of the Dewey celebration merged with the beginning of the America's Cup races, as the Columbia easily retained the cup in a three-race sweep. This testament to American know-how received daily front-page coverage by the newspapers. Correspondingly, films of these races were thrown on the Musee's screen shortly after the sailing duels were over. "Instead of the whole race being shown at once, it is shown in a series of four pictures of several minutes length each," reported the Mail and Express .[129] Some historians have suggested that Porter took these films of the America's Cup as well as other subjects while he worked at the Eden Musee.[130] Yet Porter, who frequently acknowledged his activities as a moving picture operator and camera builder, never mentions working as a moving picture photographer at this time. It is possible, even probable, that he participated in filming such major news events as the Dewey celebration, but if Porter worked as a cameraman, it must have been sporadically and of little importance. Attributions of film authorship to Porter during 1898-1900 are, for this reason, highly suspect. Two other possibilities seem more likely. Paley, in his continuing association with the amusement center, may have taken the pictures, or the Musee may have made special arrangements to acquire copies of the subjects being taken by American Vitagraph.

In the second half of 1899, motion picture exhibition underwent a significant change that had serious implications for both the Eden Musee and the Edison Manufacturing Company: 35mm moving pictures became a permanent feature at many Manhattan vaudeville houses. Biograph had remained on the bill at Keith's since the Spanish-American War, but that situation was unique. Then in mid June, Vitagraph began to show films at Tony Pastor's, where it would remain for the next nine years. The exhibition service presented its own exclusive films of the boxer James Jeffries in training and the Dewey celebration. "The American Vitagraph has been excelling in enterprise during the past week," reported the New York Clipper . "Several views were taken of the Olympia and projected here the evening of the same day, and the Dewey land parade was seen on Saturday evening, five hours after the views were taken."[131] This practice continued with the America's Cup races.

Proctor's theaters did not have films on their bills. For the Dewey celebration, they showed lantern slides of the events. For the America's Cup races, the positions of the boats were reported to Proctor's theaters by wireless and charted


on immense maps between acts. Such maps were useless in the evenings, when most patrons attended the theater, since the viewers already knew the outcome. Responding to commercial pressures from both the biograph at Keith's and the vitagraph at Pastor's, F. F. Proctor hired Edison licensee William Paley to provide his theaters with an exhibition service. Possessing several theaters, the vaudeville entrepreneur offered Paley inducements that the Eden Musee could not match. On October 9th Paley premiered his kalatechnoscope at Proctor's 23rd Street Theater, a few doors away from his old employer. Two weeks later he was exhibiting at Proctor's Pleasure Palace on Fifty-eighth Street. There the cameraman set up an office and production facility, enabling him to process film and get it on the screen with maximum speed. The Burning of the "Nutmeg State, " taken on October 14th, was shown on the very day of the disaster. Within a month the kalatechnoscope was also at Proctor's theater in Albany, New York, and in Philadelphia. In the trades, Proctor manager J. Austin Fynes announced that Paley's film service was booked for an indefinite run, and it remained at Proctor's houses into the nickelodeon era.[132]

The most prominent vaudeville managers had recognized that film companies needed steady commercial outlets if they were to retain the necessary staff and resources to cover important news events. By late 1899 New York papers were advertising film showings in seven or more theaters, at least six of which presented vaudeville.[133] These changes had an enormous impact on the Eden Musee, which was deprived of its role as the only permanent exhibition venue for 35mm film in New York. Furthermore, the Musee no longer possessed its own production capabilities. Meanwhile, the leading vaudeville exhibition services—Biograph, Vitagraph, and Paley's kalatechnoscope—were establishing reputations by exhibiting their own exclusive films in a timely fashion.

Not long after these developments, Porter left his position at the Eden Musee to become a traveling motion picture exhibitor. In a later deposition Porter observed: "In the summer of 1900 I went on the road with a show of my own."[134] This may well have been motivated by the realization that the Musee's role was no longer as central as when Porter had arrived. In any case, traveling with a black tent, playing carnivals and fairs, culminated Porter's career as an exhibitor.[135] With a selection of films and some slides, he tested his abilities as a showman against many different kinds of audiences. As he had done for the previous four years, Porter saw what people enjoyed and learned to get the most out of his modest resources. Yet now at the age of thirty, his apprenticeship in this area was about to end.

The Edison Manufacturing Company and Its Licensees

The Edison Company's sales and profits for films and projecting kinetoscopes were generally lower from 1898 through 1900 than they had been in the


previous two years. Film sales were reduced by almost half, from $75,250 in 1897-98 to $41,207 in 1898-99, $38,991 in 1899-1900, and $49,756 in 1900-1901. Sales of projecting kinetoscopes also fell.[136] This reflected competition from several sources. Biograph contested Edison's suit for patent infringement and dominated film exhibition in first-class vaudeville houses. In the fall of 1898 it had projectors in twenty theaters across the United States.[137] In addition, its mutoscopes were quickly replacing kinetoscopes, being a more efficient peep-hole individual viewing device for moving pictures. Edison also failed to close down Sigmund Lubin, whose films were sold for less than Edison's on a per-foot basis. Moreover, Lubin shot his films at fewer frames per second. Purchasers, therefore, could show a Lubin film of equivalent length for a longer period of time. Such competition forced the Edison Company to reduce its sale price from 30¢ per foot in January 1897 to 24¢ per foot in May 1898 and 15¢ per foot by July 1898.[138] Meanwhile the quantity of footage sold remained constant or increased only slightly, resulting in a rapid falloff of gross income.

Much Edison-related film business was conducted by licensees, who captured a large share of the revenues. From 1898 to 1900, Edison was heavily dependent on these companies for new film subjects. Approximately half of the Edison-copyrighted films from this period were made by American Vitagraph and William Paley. The first Vitagraph films to be copyrighted by Thomas Edison and sold by his company were of the naval parade of August 20, 1898 (The Fleet Steaming up the North River ). These nine films were taken from a yacht and provided some of the best pictures of the flotilla. Thereafter, Blackton and Smith supplied Edison with many comedies, for example The Burglar on the Roof (made by late September but not copyrighted by Edison until December 12, 1898) and Willie's First Smoke , as well as trick films such as Vanishing Lady and Congress of Nations . They also took news films of Admiral Dewey's visit to New York (Presentation of Loving Cup at City Hall, New York ) and Washington (Presentation of Nation's Sword to Admiral Dewey ), the America's Cup, the Galveston flood (Bird's Eye View of Dock Front, Galveston ), and lesser events.

Fewer Paley films entered Edison catalogs (which does not necessarily mean that the cameraman made fewer films than Vitagraph). Automobile Parade , which he shot on Saturday, November 4, 1899, was copyrighted by Edison on February 6, 1900. Dick Crocker Leaving Tammany Hall , taken on November 18th, was copyrighted on February 9, 1900. A comedy, An Exchange of Good Stories , taken of Chauncey Depew and Marshall Wilder in early November may have entered the Edison catalog as Two Old Pals , but was never copyrighted. The Burning of the "Nutmeg State " and a news film of Sir Thomas Lipton's departure from New York on November 1st were neither copyrighted nor promoted by Edison's Kinetograph Department.[139]


While the Edison Manufacturing Company gained possession of its licensees' negatives and offered them for sale, it had little control over the selection of subject matter, the manner in which these subjects were turned into films, and even the time at which a film might be available for marketing. Vitagraph and Paley made films for use in their vaudeville theaters. Many of these were timely subjects that soon lost their commercial value. Yet these licensees generally retained original subjects for several months—as exclusives for their own exhibitions—before turning them over to Edison for copyright and sale. The Edison Company's relations with these affiliated enterprises was decentralized and informal.

The licensing arrangement perhaps benefited the licensees more than the licensor. Under the constant encouragement of William T. Rock, the third Vitagraph partner, Thomas Edison sued such unlicensed exhibitors as Eberhard Schneider and seriously disrupted their business.[140] While Edison generated some publicity that may have encouraged showmen to buy his company's products, Vitagraph acquired many of the victims' exhibition venues. Ironically, very little money from these exhibitions ever reached Edison coffers. Vitagraph took many of its own films and acquired other subjects directly from European producers. Its purchases from Edison were small and apparently did not even cover the royalties that Edison owed Vitagraph for the sale of prints from its negatives.

Edison tried to shift the commercial balance in his favor when he licensed the Klondike Exposition Company, organized by Thomas Crahan of Montana. In a contract dated March 14, 1899, Thomas Edison was to receive 20 percent of the net receipts derived from the company's exhibitions.[141] The contract also reveals the extent to which Biograph's activities were judged superior, as Edison made a commitment to a large-format motion picture system. For this venture, the "Wizard" agreed to construct two kinetographs, which took pictures 2" high and 3" wide, at the cost of $1,000. With these machines in hand, Crahan left for Alaska on June 8th.[142] He was accompanied by an Edison-designated photographic specialist, Robert Kates Bonine (1862-1923), a well-known stereo-view and lantern-slide photographer, originally from Altoona, Pennsylvania. Bonine, who established his reputation taking photographs of the Johnstown flood in 1889 and the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, had done some work for Edison in 1898.[143] Bonine also carried a still camera for lantern slides and a regular 35mm motion picture camera.[144]

The two men traveled through Alaska to Dawson City in the Yukon and then into the gold fields. Surviving films from the expedition include White Horse Rapids; Washing Gold on 20 Above Hunker, Klondike ; and Packers on the Trail (all submitted for copyright in April 1900 or May 1901). Upon their return in late October, Crahan and Edison discovered that the large-format films had poor registration. "When we project them on the screen the whole picture moves up a foot, then down six inches then up and so on," Edison explained to John



Charles Kayser at work.

Ott before asking him to make "a corrector for correcting negatives so that although the negative prints vary on the film the positives are equidistant."[145] Edison's staff tried to make such a device, but Eberhard Schneider later suggested that they were unsuccessful: "Kayser, one of Edison's inventors, made an intermittent printer, the size of a steam roller such as is used today by the New York Paving Company. The thing would not work at all, and I had to do some printing on certain films for Jim White, Edison's laboratory expert and manager in 1900."[146] By mid January the Klondike Exposition Company had expended $7,385, run out of cash, and still needed projectors and films. Edison was forced to negotiate a new arrangement, under which he supplied the necessary equipment and films. This enabled Crahan to put together three illustrated lectures entitled Artistic Glimpses of the Wonder World .[147] By June 1900 any hope Crahan had of recouping his investment and going to the Paris Exposition had ended. The Klondike Exposition Company therefore sold its equipment and film to Edison for $2,500 in cash and $2,500 in Edison goods (phonograph records, etc.).[148] The venture was a financial failure—not only for Crahan but also for the Edison Company, which posted its smallest film profits of any year in the era of projection.


James White and the Kinetograph Department

Given the often problematic, if large-scale, activities of the Edison licensees, production under James White continued to be of importance. One difficulty in discussing the Kinetograph Department and its accomplishments, however, is determining what White produced and what was produced by the licensees. This is complicated by irregular copyright practices, little production information, and lack of a regular Edison-affiliated exhibition outlet through much of 1899. By early August 1898 the Edison Company had adopted a practice espoused by Sigmund Lubin and was staging reenactments of military actions for the camera. This may have begun with Shooting Captured Insurgents and Cuban Ambush (both © August 5, 1898), which featured Spanish atrocities and cowardice. Both were somewhat perfunctory and used the same location and camera setup. Although White may have been too ill to participate in these efforts, he had recovered by early October. Perhaps for this reason, William Heise withdrew from filmmaking that month (he left Edison's employ only to return a year later in a nonfilm role).[149] White was responsible for Battle of San Juan Hill and Charge of the Rough Riders at El Caney , made in late 1898 or early 1899. These were not copyrighted, however, and do not survive. White was soon focusing on America's counterinsurgency in the Philippines, staging and filming such pictures as Advance of Kansas Volunteers at Caloocan (© June 5, 1899) and Capture of Trenches at Candabar (© June 10, 1899). These avoided the expense of sending a cameraman to the Far East and allowed White to show the heroic actions of American soldiers—something unlikely to be filmed in the midst of a guerrilla war. These one-shot scenes, often shot through underbrush or from a camera position low to the ground, used more credible staging and smoke effects to heighten the scene's realism. The practice of using National Guard units to play the American soldiers likewise added credibility. These films, too, could be sequenced into a series.

The Edison policy of filming reenactments continued in 1900 with the Boer War. By now the scale and level of spectacle had increased-along with the accompanying risks. On April 11th, White was taking a series of these films, including Boers Bringing in British Prisoners and Charge of Boer Cavalry . While filming Capture of Boer Battery , the cannon fired prematurely and wounded the Kinetograph Department manager (see document no. 7). A few days later, White returned to complete the series with Mason Mitchell, an actor who had fought with Roosevelt's Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War, organizing the battle scenes. The participants, said to number two hundred, were primarily members of a local militia. They received $2 each for the day's work (after briefly striking for a 75¢ raise), a $400 investment by the Edison Company.[150]



Filipinos Retreat from Trenches (© June 5, 1899).


Two Men Wounded in a Reproduction
of the Engagement at Spion
Kop, in South Africa

Brick Church, N.J., April 11— Two men were injured this afternoon in West Orange at a sham battle in reproduction of the famous engagement at Spion Kop, in South Africa. James H. White, General Manager of the Edison projecting kinetoscope business, had arranged it. The scene was on the rocky side of the eastern slope of the second Orange Mountain, near the Livingstone line. About 200 men had been engaged, half of them in Boer costume posted on the top of the crest, while the remainder attired as British stormed the heights. A good sized cannon was used to heighten the effect and the kinetoscope was placed in position to take the moving pictures. Through some blunder the cannon was discharged pre-

(Text box continued on next page)


maturely, and Mr. White and one of the men, William McCarthy of 33 South street, Orange, were struck by the wad and burned by the powder. McCarthy's injuries were trivial, but Mr. White was badly lacerated as well as burned, and his condition tonight is reported as serious.

SOURCE : Philadelphia Ledger , April 12, 1900, clipping, NjWOE.

White improvised another group of one-shot, acted films over the course of 1899 and 1900, the "Adventures of Jones Series." The first were shot in Llewellyn Park shortly after a February snowstorm. Jones' Return from the Club and Jones and His Pal in Trouble show the inebriated protagonist (possibly played by White)[151] wrestling with a policeman. In one, Jones is the victor, in the other the cop is. Exhibitors had a choice of alternative endings in which either the law or pleasure would prove triumphant. Subsequent films were shot in the Black Maria. In Jones Makes a Discovery , Jones's pal consoles the drunkard's wife with intimate affection—only to be discovered by Jones and tossed out the window. Later subjects include Why Mrs. Jones Got a Divorce (© January 17, 1900), in which Mrs. Jones finds irrefutable evidence that the cook has been embracing her husband (telltale handprints on his jacket). Frustrated by his continued denials, she covers him with a panful of flour and discharges the help. Clearly, all is not as it should be in a proper Victorian household, as pleasure and desire exceed their proper boundaries.

By the latter part of 1899 James White and the Kinetograph Department were offering exhibitors multishot subjects in a few unusual circumstances. Boston Horseless Fire Department (© September 15, 1899) showed "the entire horseless fire department of Boston accompanied by the old style apparatus which is drawn by horses running at terrific pace down Batterymarch Street." The Edison catalog then noted: "Another view on the same film shows a portion of the Boston fire department making a quick hitch in the engine house and the running out with the horses on a gallop."[152] These linked scenes suggest a thematic relationship: the horseless carriage is on its way to the rescue while the horsedrawn engines are still coming out of the firehouse. This contrast, which is only implicit in the film and would have had to be drawn out by the exhibitor's lecture, apparently justified selling the two scenes as part of the same film.

Shoot the Chutes Series (© September 23, 1899) was called "positively the most wonderful series of pictures ever secured by an animated picture camera." It looks at the same subject from three different vantage points:

The first scene is taken from the pond of the chutes, and shows a number of boats laden with gay Coney Island pleasure-seekers coming down into the water in rapid succession. The next scene is taken from the top of the incline, showing the boats being loaded, starting away, running down the chutes and dashing into the water. The next



Shoot the Chutes Series.

and most wonderful picture was secured by placing the camera in the boat, making a panoramic view of the chutes while running down and dashing into the water. 275 ft.[153]

The camera explores and penetrates the space of this "attraction"; moreover, it was the spatial relations between shots—the ability to introduce multiple perspectives—that provided the necessary justification for the selling of these scenes as one film. As with the proposed combination of The Black Diamond Express and Receding View, Black Diamond Express , the spatial world portrayed is complex, while the temporality remains imprecise or underdeveloped. (Was this supposed to represent the same action repeatedly from three different perspectives or simply similar actions?) Other multishot actuality films were unfortunately not copyrighted. This includes Foot-ball Game , which was taken in Orange on November 30, 1899, and "shows many exciting plays, kickoffs, touchdowns, rushes, etc."[154]

The Edison Company's appropriation of editorial responsibility is also evident in two fiction films: The Astor Tramp (© October 27, 1899) and Love and



The Astor Tramp. The tramp climbs into a millionaire's bed and then reads about his escapade in the newspapers.

War (© November 28, 1899). White, a singer who made several records for Edison's National Phonograph Company, used his position as head of Edison's Kinetograph Department to produce these "Picture Songs," which were then billed as part of Edison's ongoing efforts to synchronize sound and image. "We have at last succeeded in perfectly synchronizing music and moving pictures," declared Edison catalogs. "The following scenes are very carefully chosen to fit the words and songs which have been especially composed for these pictures."[155] Similar efforts to adapt motion pictures to the song-slide format had already been tried at the Eden Musee and elsewhere. In White's case, the production company provided the narration/song as well as an editorial construction.

The Astor Tramp was a "side splitting subject, showing the mistaken tramp's arrival at the Wm. Waldorf Astor mansion and being discovered comfortably asleep in bed, by the lady of the house."[156] In the second scene, which the Edison catalog does not mention, the tramp is back on the street: he grabs a paper from a newsboy and reads about his recent escapades, gesturing to the audience as he struts around the stage-like set. In fact the film was based on an incident that had received widespread newspaper attention five years earlier.[157] Adopted by popular culture, the episode spawned a skit at Tony Pastor's entitled "The Pastor Tramp." Despite this notoriety, the Edison catalog urged exhibitors to use some kind of verbal clarification to motivate the character's actions and the relationship between the shots: "The music and words accompanying are explanatory and can be either sung or spoken."[158]

The catalog description for the 200-foot, six-scene Love and War also reveals a narrative coherence not apparent from simply watching the film. It was "an illustrated song telling the story of a hero who leaves for the war as a private,


is promoted to the rank of captain for bravery in service, meets the girl of his choice, who is a Red Cross nurse on the field, and finally returns home triumphantly as an officer to the father and mother to whom he bade good bye as a private."[159] Here again, the title and story line were familiar ones.[160] Only four scenes were copyrighted under this title, but two other films, including the concurrently made Fun in Camp , were apparently added to Love and War to fill out its advertised length. For both "song films" the careful fit between words and picture required the production company to exercise a high degree of creative control. However, both films lacked the spatial and even temporal complexity of the multishot actualities.

These precocious, though still tentative moves toward multishot films coincided with important developments in motion picture practice. First, the technology of projection was improving. The Edison Company had incorporated Albert Smith's reframing device into its projecting kinetoscope.[161] This enabled the projectionist to reframe the image when it jumped out of registration without having to stop the projector and manually reposition the film. In the past, this problem had been reduced by showing short lengths of films interwoven with slides. Projection quality was also improving, encouraging longer subjects. Secondly, it coincided with the move toward permanent exhibition outlets in vaudeville and the emergence of more established exhibition companies. Commercial stability encouraged longer subjects, in part because larger units were more efficient to work with. Production efficiency was matched by representational innovation. Subjects shown from multiple viewpoints, picture songs, and narrative sequences were often operating within narrowly defined genres. The 1899 Shoot the Chutes Series treated the same subject as the 1896 Shoot the Chutes (and its many imitations)-but in a new way. Boston Horseless Fire Department was likewise an elaboration of the overused fire run.

During the spring of 1900, White and the Kinetograph Department made a bona fide attempt to produce synchronized sound motion pictures. This was for New York City's Board of Education under the supervision of Associate Superintendent Alfred Theodore Schauffler. The resulting program lasted an hour and included the following scenes:

1. A ride through the Ghetto.

2. School assembly, foreign children.

3. Dismissal to the class rooms.

4. Kindergarten games.

5. Recess games, boys.

6. Recess games, girls.

7. A workshop in full operation.

8. Classroom gymnastics.



A Storm at Sea. The cameraman changed lenses or positions to give a "cut-in."

9. Grace hoop gymnastics drill.

10. Rapid dismissal to the street.

11. Ballgames. Foot ball, etc.

12. Assembly in an uptown school.

13. Rhythmic ball drill to music.

14. Cooking class in operation.

15. Marching salute to the flag.

16. Indian club swinging, High School Girls.

Accompanying these films were phonograph recordings of the children performing recitations and songs, as well as of the music to which they executed their exercises.[162] According to a member of the Schauffler family, these films were made on the roof of a New York high school so that the scenes could be filmed in sunlight. The superintendent's greetings, the pledge of allegiance, the national anthem, and piano music were recorded first, with people speaking and performing directly into the big horn attached to a phonograph. Then the cylinders were played back and the students and teachers executed their activities to the recordings, mouthing their parts when appropriate.[163] White then traveled to the Paris Exposition, where he was present at the rehearsals for the display that opened at the Social Economy Palace on June 29, 1900.[164]

A Storm at Sea , taken by White in mid June on his way to the Paris Exposition, shows a storm from the bridge of the Kaiserina Maria Theresa in two shots—an establishing view and a close view notable for its visual heightening of the storm's violent effect. A cut-in like this one or a cut-out like the one in Razing a Factory Chimney ,[165] which was made in England at about the same


time, continued earlier screen practices with their well-developed spatial relationships. It would be a mistake, however, to consider this cut-in as an attempt at a match cut: temporality was a difficult and persistent problem in early cinema. Its underdeveloped nature can be explained in large part by the severe limitations on temporal specificity in traditional lantern shows. Significantly, from their first appearance such two-shot constructions were listed and sold as a single scene. Cut-ins and cut-outs were the type of editorial strategies over which producers had easy and relatively uncontested control.

While in Europe, White (along with an as yet unidentified colleague) filmed Paris and the 1900 Exposition, using a riotous array of camera movements. Panoramic View of the Champs Elysees was taken from the front of a moving vehicle and Panorama of the Paris Exposition, from the Seine from a boat. For Panorama from the Moving Boardwalk , the camera was placed on a "Platform Mobile." Either on their way or shortly after arriving in Paris, the photographers acquired a more sophisticated panning mechanism, which allowed their camera to follow action more smoothly. This is evident in Champs de Mars , in which the camera plays cat and mouse with two women. Panning right to left, the camera follows them until they move behind an arch. It tries to pick them up again, but the women foil the operators' expectations. For Panorama of Eiffel Tower , the camera tilts vertically, moving up the tower and then back down—at which point the American showman Lyman Howe peers into the lens and smiles broadly. These subjects proved popular with a large number of exhibitors (including Howe, who appeared more discreetly in other scenes) and were usually combined into sequences that gave American audiences a rich impression of the event.[166] When Panorama of the Moving Boardwalk , for example, was followed by Panorama from the Moving Boardwalk , one the reverse angle of the other, a clear spatial world was constructed, although the temporal relationship between shots was only proximate and nonspecific.

On his return to the United States, White quickly employed the mobile tripod head to shoot sweeping panoramas of well-known locations. His peripatetic lifestyle continued with Circular Panorama of Atlantic City, N.J., Circular Panorama of Mauch Chunk, Penna.; Circular Panorama of Niagara Falls ; and Panoramic View of the White House, Washington, D.C. These films revelled in the camera's newfound ability to present spectacle on an unprecedented scale. In the process, narrative concerns appear temporarily forgotten. Such pictures can be contrasted to earlier "panoramas" which involved the camera moving through space, usually on the front of a conveyance. These earlier efforts were easily incorporated into the narrative flow of a travel program and so proved popular. Even if included in longer programs, White's circular panoramas tended to interrupt any narrative progression. Although there were some exceptions, this technique was used most frequently to represent awe-inspiring



Panorama of Eiffel Tower. The camera could now tilt smoothly up and down.

scenery or large-scale devastation (Panorama of Wreckage of Water Front, Galveston ). The new panning capacity, however, was perfect for following action and keeping subjects in frame when making news films.

The Edison Manufacturing Company Reaches its Commercial Nadir

Edison's film business was in dire straits by 1900. Despite White's production of a significant number of commercially attractive films, the Edison Company lacked strong photographic skills. Eberhard Schneider would later claim that White "knew nothing whatever as to the composition of developer and its effects. He made up hypo developer in quantity (fully mixed) for weeks ahead and many good negatives . . . were spoiled in this ink solution."[167]

Biograph, moreover, was vigorously contesting the inventor's patent suit. Tensions between licensees and licensor were high. When the Edison Company failed to turn over the money it owed Vitagraph, the unhappy licensees threat-


ened to sue for an accounting. They had forgotten who held the trump cards, and William Gilmore obligingly reminded them by cancelling their contractual relationship in January 1900. A series of stormy exchanges followed, which threatened to send Blackton and Smith to jail. Although Gilmore eventually worked out a new arrangement with the Vitagraph group in October 1900, thereby acquiring a fresh influx of films for Edison catalogs, relations remained uneasy and depended on legal coercion. If Edison lost his court case against Biograph, his commercial "allies" would obviously become commercial enemies.

The Edison Manufacturing Company also faced uneasy relations with its selling agents. Although providing a large outlet for Edison goods, Frederick M. Prescott's New York office had begun to sell Lubin films. In June 1899 Edison brought suit against Prescott and forced another American entrepreneur out of the film business.[168] Two individuals, who were to play important roles in the industry and effectively promote Edison products in the years ahead, appeared to sell Edison goods on the exclusive terms Edison demanded. The first of these was George Kleine, whose Kleine Optical Company in Chicago started to purchase Edison films in June 1899.[169] The second was Percival Waters, who had worked with White at the Vitascope Company and was then a small, New York-based jobber of Edison films.

In November 1899 Waters formed a silent partnership with James White and John Schermerhorn, . Gilmore's brother-in-law and assistant general manager of the Edison Manufacturing Company since 1896. [170] Their partnership, called the Kinetograph Company, was to act as an exhibitor and selling agent of Edison films. Waters was to run the business, while White and Schermerhorn promised to arrange several thousand dollars worth of credit, to send customers to the Kinetograph Company whenever possible, and take "such picture subjects as would tend to increase their business to suit their special customers in the various theaters."[171] Although Gilmore was almost certainly aware of the arrangement, it involved obvious conflicts of interest. As Waters' attorney later asked, did White and Schermerhorn act in the best interests of the Kinetograph Department or the Kinetograph Company when these interests diverged? Yet White and Schermerhorn were simply taking advantage of a commercial opportunity in a manner consistent with the business practices then prevalent at the Edison works.[172]

The Kinetograph Company filled a need that had become apparent not only with the demise of Prescott's agency but because the Edison Company needed its own vaudeville exhibition outlet. One of the new company's first actions was to establish a permanent working relationship with Huber's 14th Street Museum. Edison had already sued George Huber earlier in the year for hiring Lubin and others to exhibit non-Edison films in his theater.[173] With rival vaudeville theaters making motion pictures a permanent attraction, Huber's museum contracted for the Kinetograph Company's exhibition services in November


1899.[174] Increasingly the Kinetograph Company acted as Edison's exhibition arm, acquiring the first copies of completed films and showing them in its programs. Unlike the licensees who took subjects for their own use, Waters arranged with White to provide their company with special films for its exhibitions. Along with Kleine and Peter Bacigalupi in San Francisco, the Kinetograph Company became an Edison selling agent with special discounts. Perhaps because of these compromised origins, Waters' Kinetograph Company developed a complementary relationship with Edison's Kinetograph Department that flourished long into the future, outlasting White's tenure as department manager and the constitution of the company as a silent partnership.

Edison, embattled on various fronts early in 1900, came close to selling his motion picture business. In March the Biograph and Edison companies were close to a "union of interests in the moving picture field."[175] After further meetings, according to Terry Ramsaye, Biograph secured an option to buy Edison's motion picture interests for half a million dollars, paying $2,500 for the option on April 12th.[176] Perhaps this helps to explain the decision to incorporate the Edison Manufacturing Company on May 5, 1900. The new corporation was activated three days later when Thomas Edison turned over "all rights, title and interest in and to the business heretofore conducted by me and known as the 'Edison Manufacturing Company' with the exception of the Projecting Kinetoscope, Kinetograph, Kinetoscope and Film business and everything pertaining thereto."[177] Since the film interests were about to be sold, they were not assigned to the new corporation.

The financing of the Edison-Biograph deal, however, fell through—if it had not, the history of American cinema would undoubtedly be quite different. Although Edison retained his personal control over moving pictures and so continued to pursue patent infringement and to copyright films in his own name, the corporate and privately owned parts of the business were effectively merged. With Biograph's option unexercised, Edison and his associates reassessed their motion picture business and decided to increase their own commitment to the field rather than renew negotiations with Harry Marvin and other Biograph executives. William Gilmore began to shift the Edison Manufacturing Company's commercial strategies in light of the difficulties encountered during the previous few years. Edison had to depend less on his licensees. This meant investing in a new studio and hiring additional personnel. The employment of Edwin Porter was part of this renewed commitment.


The Production Company Assumes Greater Control: 1900-1902

Creative responsibilities were rapidly centralized within the production companies during the first years of the new century. Nowhere was this more evident than with the shift of editorial control from exhibitor to producer. Responsibility for narrative construction accompanied this shift, ultimately making possible and valorizing the production company's claims to authorship. This far-reaching transformation was taking place in the film practices of other countries as well, notably of England and France. In the United States, the Edison Manufacturing Company not only led the way in this process but struggled with these complex issues in particularly revealing ways.

Porter Becomes an Edison Employee

By the fall of 1900 the Edison Company was reorganizing its Kinetograph Department and upgrading its technical system. Edwin Porter, with his mechanical ingenuity and experience, was the appropriate person to hire for the latter effort. The experienced operator had his own reasons for joining the Edison staff. His small factory for manufacturing projectors had recently been wiped out by fire.[1] Since traveling motion picture exhibitors were suffering through a difficult period, Porter was not eager to pursue such a commercial venture if other options were available. The exhibitor's admiration for Edison was undoubtedly another influential factor. In the end, Porter was added to the inventor's payroll a few days before Thanksgiving 1900. He was employed to "improve and redesign moving picture cameras, projecting machines and perforators," based on the superior equipment he had built and used at the Eden Musee.[2]



Edison Laboratory in West Orange, ca. 1900. Black Maria is in center.

According to Porter, "Mr. White, also Mr. Gilmore, recognized the superiority of my machine over theirs and they engaged me more as a technical man to improve their machine."[3] Edison advertisements described the 1901 Model Projecting Kinetoscope, which benefited from Porter's improvements, as "a complete revolution in projecting machines."[4] Besides the customary claims to a steady, flickerless image, the Edison machine "is equipped with the only perfect take up device which has ever been constructed to reel up 1,000 ft. of film without hitch or failure. Shows both stereopticon slides and animated pictures. One person can work the whole machine. It has a new adjustable arc lamp which is a marvel in itself. The lamp house is adaptable to any kind of illuminant known to the profession." By 1901, after having incorporated improvements from Albert Smith's vitagraph and the Eden Musee's cinematograph, Edison's projecting kinetoscope was among the best in its field. At a cost of $375 in labor and materials, Porter also constructed a new printing machine in January and early February.[5]

By the fall of 1900 the Edison Company had decided to build a new studio that would ensure a steady supply of films and improve its competitive position. The evident stabilization of exhibition outlets through vaudeville theaters made this appropriate. Because the demand for film programs had fluctuated between 1896 and 1899, relying on licensees to produce films and locate exhibition opportunities had kept expenses and risk low. Now that moving pictures were a permanent feature and exhibitors required a consistent supply of films, a new approach was merited. The result was the nation's first indoor, glass-enclosed film studio where pictures could be produced year-round—a definite improvement over both the Biograph and Vitagraph companies' open-air rooftop stages.



The Edison Projecting Kinetoscope, ca. 1901.

Unlike the Black Maria, the new studio was to be located in the heart of New York's entertainment district. All the personnel and materials needed for regular film production were at hand.

In October 1900 the Kinetograph Department rented the top floor and roof of 41 East Twenty-first Street for $150 a month. The Hinkle Iron Company was hired "to furnish, deliver and erect complete and in good substantial and workman-like manner a photographic Studio on roof" at a cost of $2,800.[6] The first expenditures for the New York studio were dispersed in December for "Pay Roll—Photo Gallery"—a total of $95.77. Another $10 was spent "hoisting 3 drums and shafting." On January 12, 1901, E. E. Hinkle announced that the building was complete after a mason had pointed up all the front and rear fireproof blocks at the studio. By mid February the studio was in working order.[7]

The Edison Company shared its space with Percival Waters' Kinetograph Company, which moved from offices across the street even before construction was completed. According to Waters, the space was

approximately 90 feet by 20 feet and on the roof above this floor there was a large studio occupying substantially the entire roof, fitted up especially for the purpose of taking moving pictures. . . . The proposition was made to me, and I accepted it, by which I was to pay the agent of the building monthly in advance $150., the entire rent for the top floor and the studio and I was to receive credit at the end of each month on my account with the Edison Company for $110, making my rent $40. The Edison Company was to have the exclusive use of the studio on the roof and a room approximately 8 × 10 feet lighted by a sky light and another room approximately 25 feet by 10 feet electrically lighted which was used as a dark room and dressing room and access to these two rooms through my place of business and the privilege of using the front rooms on my floor as dressing rooms. The company was also to have the use of



Blueprint for Edison's new motion picture studio on Twenty-first Street, New York.

the telephone, have such electric light as was needed and the use of my shop which I fitted up with a complete set of tools which they did use from time to time in connection with repairs to machines and cameras in connection with their operation of the studio and the producing of pictures there. They also had the use of my projecting machines for the purpose of exhibiting and testing their films.[8]

Porter recalled that "after being with [the Edison Company] a short time and as they were in need of a cameraman and producer, I was given charge of the first skylight studio in the country."[9] Porter actually had little experience as a cameraman; he was hired because of his considerable knowledge of cinematic practices and because his background as an electrician and machinist enabled him to put the studio in working order and to keep it that way. On staff, he was available to further improve the projecting kinetoscope and Edison's cameras. In addition, Edison executives needed someone who would not desert the studio if the inventor's patents suffered setbacks in the courts. Many of the more experienced cameramen could not have been trusted precisely for this reason. Porter's self-effacing manner, his emulation of Edison, and his lack of conflicting business interests all suited him to the company's needs. Also, studio productions did not then have the same importance—vis-à-vis news films and other actualities—that they were later to assume.

Porter's move into filmmaking occurred, moreover, within what might be called a collaborative system of production. Collaboration was, as already shown, familiar in the early years of film—whether between Porter and Charles H. Balsley, Dickson and Heise, White and Blechynden, or J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith. Now Porter shared his new responsibilities with George S.


Fleming, an actor and scenic designer who started working for the Edison Company on January 13, 1901. Fleming earned $20 per week, while Porter received only $15. This relationship with Fleming would provide Porter with a model for subsequent organizations of film work. In the years ahead, whether with Wallace McCutcheon, James Searle Dawley, or Hugh Ford, Porter would seek out a similar collaborative working method. Porter would feel most secure dealing with the filmic issues (camerawork, editing, special effects, camera tricks, etc.) and look to others to handle the actors. Although the stories and scripts for these subjects came from many sources, Porter would customarily shape them to his own sense of the commercially popular.

Although this collaborative system typified pre-Griffith film production, it has been little recognized. Janet Staiger has articulated the general historical consensus in characterizing pre-1907 filmmaking as relying on the "cameraman system." In the cameraman system, a single individual is responsible for the production of a given film.[10] The notion of a single cinematographer improvising short skits, or, more typically, traveling about the country taking actualities, resonates with the concept of early cinema as simpler and more "primitive."

The cameraman system was indeed employed during the pre-Griffith era, but then it was used in later years as well. The collaborative approach, with its informal exchange of ideas and sharing of roles, was more characteristic of the early period. Although this working method typically involved two key individuals, others also made contributions. Thus, James White assisted Porter and Fleming on such studio productions as Execution of Czolgosz and Life of an American Fireman . Collaboration, however, frequently went beyond Porter, Fleming, and White to include members of the staff whose contributions would never be expected (or even tolerated) in later, more hierarchical and labor-specialized organizations. While filmmakers of this period, including Porter, did occasionally have to work alone, this collaborative approach was preferred.

The new studio changed the balance of power between the Edison Company and its licensees. On January 10th, White and Gilmore terminated their licensing agreement with the talented, but difficult, American Vitagraph Company, after Blackton and Smith claimed that they were unable to pay a 10 percent royalty on exhibition income.[11] In the future, the Vitagraph owners were theoretically restricted to showing only Edison films. Though exhibiting European subjects in order to keep their business afloat, they ceased virtually all production activities. Only William Paley continued to operate under formal Edison auspices.

By mid February, Porter and Fleming were turning out short films; one of the first, Kansas Saloon Smashers , was the occasion for a rare publicity still. Excepting a few winter scenes (Ice-Boat Racing at Red Bank, N.J. ) and news films of McKinley's second inauguration (President McKinley and Escort Going to the Capitol ), most Edison subjects from the winter of 1901 were shot in the studio. Full-scale production of short comedies continued at Edison, while



Publicity still for Kansas Saloon Smashers.

Biograph, with its outdoor facilities, suspended most production. Edison's investment was already paying off.

The Cinema as a Visual Newspaper

Until recently, historians looking at turn-of-the-century American cinema have generally dismissed it as naive, primitive, and unformed. Next to the consistent photographic realism of Lumière and the theatrical artifice of Méliès, American subjects have seemed eclectic, derivative, "literal and unimaginative," and "significant today mainly as social documents."[12] A more sympathetic and careful examination, however, reveals a unifying principle behind much American film production. As Robert C. Allen has pointed out, the screen was often described and conceived of as a "visual newspaper," where news items, human interest material, political satires, short cartoon-like sketches, and the sports page could all be combined within a variety format.[13] As Leslie's Weekly ob-


served of Edison's rival, "The Biograph goes hand in hand with the daily press in presenting to nightly audiences events which they have seen during the day or read of in the evening papers."[14] This came about, according to Harry Marvin, Biograph's vice-president, in response to audience demand:

In building up our business we were of the opinion at first that what the public would desire would be a series of finished and artistic pictures representing a scene or event of historic interest or artistic value. At first we followed such a course, but we soon found that the public demanded of us the prompt and reliable service of the daily newspaper rather than the artistic or aesthetic finish of the weekly or monthly magazine. That is to say, the public has expected us to gather the news in a pictorial way and disseminate it at once.[15]

If Biograph offered the visual newspaper par excellence, Edison subjects also owed much to this philosophy of production.

As the first form of mass communication and mass entertainment, newspapers profoundly influenced many cultural forms, including cinema. The mode of representation used by these papers included, at one end of the spectrum, the "objectivity" of the New York Times and the New York Tribune , which treated the reporter and the camera as recorders of reality and arranged the resulting stories hierarchically, based on their newsworthiness. The primary function of these papers was to inform and, through their editorial pages, to instruct their readership. At another extreme was the variety format of the Hearst papers, which were as interested in entertaining as in informing, preferring the sensational to the dry. In many instances, of course, the Journal did provide its readership with photographs and "objective" accounts of important happenings, but the comic strip suggests that amusement was also an important function.

The front page of the New York Journal was an excellent indicator of events considered worthy of the Kinetograph Department's attention throughout 1901-2. Kansas Saloon Smashers , first advertised as Mrs. Carrie Nation and Her Hatchet Brigade , portrayed the prohibitionist and her followers on a saloon-wrecking rampage that received front-page coverage.[16] The film was both reenactment and burlesque. While the set was based on a Journal photograph of a destroyed saloon in Wichita, Kansas, the characters and their actions owed much to the satirical cartoons appearing on the paper's editorial page.[17] Lubin's exhibition service showed the film at Bradenburgh's Ninth and Arch Street Museum, where the pictures were "declared to be genuine ones" and headed the entire bill.[18] This popular subject was promptly remade by both Lubin and Biograph. Later, when Carrie Nation's husband demanded a divorce, news reports inspired Edison's Why Mr. Nation Wants a Divorce .[19]

Terrible Teddy, the Grizzly King , a burlesque on Teddy Roosevelt, then vice-president-elect, who was shooting mountain lions in Colorado, was based on a political cartoon series also running in the Journal . In a panel printed on



Kansas Saloon Smashers. A stop-action, concealed edit as
 Carrie Nation destroys the saloon.

February 4th, the cartoonist showed Teddy perched heroically on a pile of animals while two men wearing small tags labeled "my photographer" and "my press agent" record the event in the background. The second scene was inspired by a panel that appeared on February 18th. As with the Carrie Nation film, Porter and Fleming were playing with a subject that enjoyed frequent satirical treatment. To offer but one example, Dumont's Minstrels were performing the burlesque "Teddy Roosevelt, the Bear Hunter" the very week that this film was made.[20]



"My Photographer" and "My Press Agent" watch Teddy shoot a cat in the first 
scene of Terrible Teddy, the Grizzly King.

Short screen comedies shared much with comic strips in the Sunday papers. The Happy Hooligan series, started by Blackton and Smith and continued by Kinetograph personnel, were indebted to the various cartoon strips depicting tramps ("Burglar Bill," "Happy Hooligan," and "Weary Willie") and appeared almost as regularly. The simple one-shot gags of Happy Hooligan April-Fooled (© April 6, 1901) and Tramp's Strategy That Failed (© May 15, 1901) are closest in their narrative structure to the Sunday strips. In these films, the humor revolved around the conflicts between constituted society and the outcast, with most situations ending with the tramp receiving an almost ritual beating.

The rube was another comic strip character who appeared in Porter/Fleming films. In Another Job for the Undertaker, The Hayseed's Experience at Washington Monument, Rube's Visit to the Studio, Rubes in the Theatre , and How They Do Things on the Bowery , this country hick encounters the modern mysteries of city life with costly naivete. In one comic strip, Uncle Reuben's unfamiliarity with "moving staircases" causes the loss of his bag and the "brick of gold" he has already been conned into purchasing.[21] In Another Job for the Undertaker , the rube's inability to read and his unfamiliarity with gas lighting cause him to blow out the flame, resulting in his asphyxiation and death. In How They Do Things on the Bowery , he is duped by a woman con artist, one of the many fast-talking city types to take advantage of his gullibility.



Cartoons provided the storyboard for Terrible Teddy, the Grizzly King.



Hearst's papers also combined information and amusement in ways disquieting to the journalistic standards of the highbrow press. The New York Journal published artists' sketches of news events, particularly when appropriate photographs were unavailable. What was lost in accurate reporting was gained in romantic melodrama. Sketches of battles were more visually dynamic than photographs of the trenches during periods of inactivity. Likewise a battle enacted for the kinetograph in the New Jersey hills provided a romantic realism that William Paley never matched when he photographed U.S. troops in Florida or Cuba. Artists' sketches appearing on the front page of the New York Journal dramatized the sensationalistic aspects of the Biddle brothers' escape from prison.[22] These were subsequently used by Porter and Fleming for the production design of Capture of the Biddle Brothers .

Perhaps the Journal's most distinctive use of visuals was the composite illustration that combined both drawing and photographic material. Such a syncretic amalgamation of disparate mimetic materials was at odds with the concept of a consistently represented, and therefore coherent, world that was then on the ascendency in the bourgeois theater and press.[23] Certainly it was inimical to the New York Times , which in any case continued to put far more faith in the word than the image. The representational strategies in Hearst's papers have parallels in much of early cinema, particularly in Porter's work at Edison. In Terrible Teddy, the Grizzly King , the natural, wooded location coexists with the cartoonist's tags still attached to the actors. The carefully constructed authenticity of the set for Kansas Saloon Smashers is seemingly contradicted by the painted mirrors and props along the back wall and with the stop-action photography of trick films used each time Mrs. Nation smashes a mirror. This syncretism, which has been denigrated as immature by historians accustomed to viewing Hollywood realism as a teleological endpoint, thus had its equivalent in long-standing cultural forms (e.g., theater, newspapers, the magic lantern).

Editorial Strategies

Most Porter/Fleming productions from the winter of 1901 were single-shot acted films between fifty and one hundred feet in length. These depicted a simple gag with a clear, though brief, Aristotelian construction—a beginning, middle, and end. In The Old Maid Having Her Picture Taken , the woman is so unattractive that when she looks into a mirror, it cracks and falls to the floor. When



Capture of the Biddle Brothers.



Exhibitors were urged to show Old Maid Having Her Picture 
Taken and Old Maid in the Drawing Room as a larger unit.

she poses for a picture and looks into the lens, the camera explodes. This comedy featured Gilbert Saroni, a well-known vaudeville performer and female impersonator who specialized in playing unattractive old maids in vaudeville sketches like "The Giddy Girl."[24]The Old Maid in the Drawing Room (copyrighted as The Old Maid in the Horse Car ) was a facial expression film with Saroni photographed in close-up as he talked to the camera. "Her facial expressions are extremely humorous," declared one Edison catalog, "and when this picture was first shown in New York City, the audience was convulsed with laughter."[25] It was suggested that the old maid was busy talking about her adventures at the photo gallery. Thus, if an exhibitor desired, he could combine these two single-shot films to create a more elaborate subject. By giving the audience a better view of a face that was capable of destroying a camera, the exhibitor could introduce a self-reflexive element that only added to the farce.

From the outset, however, Porter and Fleming produced a significant number of multishot acted films, thus assuming control over the editorial function in select circumstances. The first scene of Terrible Teddy, the Grizzly King is described in an Edison catalog:

A burlesque on Theodore Roosevelt hunting mountain lions in Colorado and taken from the New York Journal and Advertiser. The scene opens in a very picturesque wood. Teddy with his large teeth is seen running down the hill with his gun in hand, followed by his photographer and press agent. He reconnoitres around a large tree and finally discovers the mountain lion. He kneels on one knee and makes a careful shot. Immediately upon the discharge of his gun a huge black cat falls from the tree and Teddy whips out his bowie knife, leaps on the cat and stabs it several times, then poses while his photographer makes a picture and the press agent writes up the thrilling adventure. A side splitting burlesque.[26]

In the next scene, unmentioned in the Edison catalog, the hunter and his retinue



Biograph's How Bridget Made the Fire.



The Finish of Bridget McKeen.

are shown coming down a path: visual continuity and narrative coherence between the first and second shots are disrupted by the sudden appearance of a new pro-filmic element—Teddy's horse. Although Kemp Niver has suggested that there is continuity of space, time, and action between these two shots,[27] the inspiration for the scenes—two cartoon panels printed two weeks apart—offers contextual evidence that indicates this is unlikely. Not strong enough to stand alone as a separate subject, this second shot became commercially viable as a tag to the opening scene.

The Finish of Bridget McKeen , another two-shot comedy made in February, may have been inspired by Biograph's single-shot How Bridget Made the Fire , produced in June of the previous year. Other possible antecedents also existed. Like The Finish of Michael Casey , which Porter made a short time later, this ethnic joke was made at the expense of the "thick-headed" Irish. The first scene was filmed against the backdrop of a kitchen (including the far edge of the ceiling), with a stove, table, and chair as the only real objects on the set. The decor is a schematic, two-dimensional suggestion of a kitchen, just as Bridget, played by a male employee, is a burlesque of a maid rather than a believable portrayal. Using stop-action procedures, Porter replaced the actor, who is using a can marked "kerosine" to start the stove, with a dummy. After an explosion expels the dummy upward out of the scene, pieces of the body/dummy fall to the earth after an abnormally long time.[28] It is this distension of time that provides the scene with one of its key comic elements. The second scene is simply a static, painted backdrop showing Bridget's tombstone, on which is written the well-known ditty "Here Lies the Remains of Bridget McKeen Who Started a Fire with Kerosine." The relationship between the two scenes is easily understood, particularly for English-speaking audiences. Not only is the first shot the cause of the second, but the ditty recounts the previous scene even as it works as an effective punch line.

Another Job for the Undertaker , made two months after The Finish of


Bridget McKeen , has a similar narrative structure. Shot 1 is a typical trick film: when a rube enters his hotel room, its contents and his clothes quickly vanish. "He then walks up to the gas jet and in direct disregard of the sign (which reads 'Don't Blow out the Gas') proceeds to blow out the gas. Three vigorous breaths are consumed in extinguishing the light, when the Rube faces the foreground of the picture with a satisfied look and tumbles into bed. The scene instantly changes to a funeral procession, headed by Reuben's hearse and followed by carriages of his country friends."[29] The second shot was filmed outside using procedures associated with actualities. The editorial combination of disparate mimetic elements is consistent with Porter's use of painted and real pro-filmic elements within a single scene. The syncretic mode of representation is simply taken to another level, utilizing editorial strategies that Porter had learned well as an exhibitor.

Terrible Teddy, the Grizzly King, The Finish of Bridget McKeen , and Another Job for the Undertaker share many characteristics. The first scenes are self-contained narratives constructed like many single-shot films of the period. The only significant difference is the addition of a tag, a short fragment that gained its value in reference to the principal scene. Each tag also represents a shift in representational methods, from narrative to non-narrative, from theatrical to painterly, from trick to actuality, or from movement to stasis. The photographer's editorial prerogatives were still confined to specialized situations. Within these limited possibilities, the films lack phenomenological continuity from one shot to the next: their relationships are aspatial and atemporal. Continuity is restricted to a narrative or thematic level. Porter had not begun to explore the spatial and temporal relations that were to become fundamental to later narrative cinema.

Two multishot films made early in 1901 are significant for yet another reason: they made use of a dissolve. In The Finish of Bridget McKeen , Porter dissolved between the main narrative gag in the kitchen and the tombstone tag. In Why Bridget Stopped Drinking , made about the same time but not copyrighted, Porter used a single camera position for both shots—the dissolve smoothing and clarifying the jump in time. The dissolve, a common screen technique developed in the mid nineteenth century, was executed by exhibitors during the course of projecting slides.[30] It was considered a particularly elegant way to move from one image to the next, preventing sudden jumps when scenes changed. In the late 1890s exhibitors occasionally dissolved from film to film or film to slides, but with mixed success.[31] The technique was not only tricky but required good timing, considerable equipment, and an extra assistant. In transitions from film to film, it was possible and much more practical for dissolves to be made in the motion picture camera or during the printing process. Méliès' Cinderella , which Porter projected at the Eden Musee, was perhaps the first film to contain dissolves: this technique was soon adopted by Blackton and Smith for Congress of Nations . Porter then employed it regularly during 1901-2, con-


cluding with Life of an American Fireman . If nothing else, it gave the production company new opportunities to assume control over the editorial process.

A group of studio films in late April and early May featured the dog known as "Mannie," who appears with his owner, Laura Comstock, in Laura Comstock's Bag-Punching Dog. The film begins with a close view of the duo and then cuts to a vaudeville-type routine probably taken from their act then being performed at Keith's Union Square Theater. Prospective purchasers were told that Mannie's "high jumps and lightning-like punches are remarkable and cause one to marvel at the amount of patience that must be necessary to teach a dog such tricks."[32] The introductory portrait functioned much like the facial expression film in the suggested combination of two Gilbert Saroni comedies discussed above. Here the producer asserted editorial control because the portrait was not strong enough to be sold on its own. It was also placed at the beginning of the picture rather than at the conclusion. Both uses of "emblematic shots" are innovations that can apparently be attributed to Porter, and yet here again caution and qualification are essential. Lantern-slide portraits of Spanish-American war heroes had often been exhibited in conjunction with related scenes. Thus, a portrait of Captain Sigsbee might have preceded the film of his ship, the Maine . Porter, therefore, applied his expertise as an showman to new material and a new situation. It was a significant achievement, but hardly an unexpected departure from previous practice.

Norman H. Mosher—Laura Comstock's husband, her manager, and Mannie's trainer—developed a relationship with Porter that would endure for over five years, during which time Mannie appeared in many Edison productions.[33] At the outset of this association, Mannie played the tramp's nemesis in several Happy Hooligan films. Pie, Tramp and the Bulldog consists of one "shot" of three separate camera takes (or subshots): (1) the tramp indicates to the film spectators that he is hungry, but that the bulldog prevents him from getting to the pie cooling on a nearby window sill, and so he exits the frame; (2) the tramp immediately returns on stilts to outsmart the dog and eat the pie on the ledge; (3) the dog gets the tramp by jumping out the house window, and the two exit with the dog holding onto the tramp's pants. Here Porter spliced together a succession of takes taken from a single camera position to give the illusion of a single, uninterrupted continuity. Rather than using this procedure to create a "trick," he used it for pacing purposes and to construct a narrative that would have been difficult to execute during a single take. (The time occupied by the tramp's off-screen acquisition of stilts was condensed in a way that obeyed theatrical convention.) Pie, Tramp and the Bulldog was praised in a subsequent Edison catalog: "This we believe to be one of the funniest pictures ever put on exhibition. It has had a run of five weeks at Proctor's New York Vaudeville Theatres and the audiences never seemed to tire of it."[34] With the studio in operation only a few months, Porter and Fleming were proving themselves adept producers of short comedies.


The Tramp's Dream , another film in this series, meticulously imitated a Lubin picture of the same title made in late 1899.[35] (Clearly Edison personnel were as ready to "borrow" from their contemporaries as vice versa.)[36] The picture has a more complex shot structure than Porter's previous films: shot (1) the tramp goes to sleep on the park bench; shot (2) the dream—the usual confrontation between the tramp, who wants a free meal, and the dog, which grabs the tramp by his pants; shot (3) a return to shot 1, the tramp is being hit on the foot and shaken by a passing policeman. The last shot explains why the dream ends and also reinforces the parallelism of the tramp being attacked by the dog and the patrolman: he gets no rest in either his dream world or his real world. Not only is there temporal continuity (although its precise nature is not defined), but a movement into and out of the tramp's mind. Subjective images, whether dreams, visions, or a character's subjective "point-of-view," were among the first instances in which cameramen employed sophisticated editorial strategies that created spatial and temporal relations between shots.[37]

Spring 1901

That spring, Edison production moved back outside the studio. Porter probably took Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show Parade , which "shows Buffalo Bill and his family of Rough Riders on their triumphal entry in New York, April 1, 1901."[38] Over the following weeks, Wild West Show performances in Madison Square Garden included "the hold-up of the Deadwood Stage."[39] This may have inspired or even provided the necessary actors and props for another Edison film made that spring—Stage Coach Hold-up in the Days of '49 :

This scene will give you a good idea of the desperate "Hold-Ups" that occurred on the plains when the rush was made to the new gold fields in '49. It shows the desperadoes coming from ambush, covering the driver of the stage with Winchester rifles and ordering him to halt. The occupants of the coach are compelled to dismount from their places, and are lined up in a very realistic manner with their hands thrown up. The outlaws get all the booty they can, and are just departing when an armed Sheriff's posse arrives. They pursue the bandits and after a desperate chase and a brutal conflict, capture them and return to the scene of the robbery. The bandits are then forced at the points of revolvers to ride in front of the coaching party to Dad's Gulch, a mining town, where they are safely landed in the lock-up. This picture will joyously intoxicate any audience, and deafening applause for an encore will be certain. Length 150 ft.[40]

Stage Coach Hold-up might answer several historical questions even as it raises others. It is a possible model for the British film Robbery of a Mail Coach (September-November 1903) as well as a precursor of Porter's later The Great Train Robbery .[41] While the description may be a somewhat expansive version of what was actually shown on the screen, the picture could have contained as many as four shots. Unfortunately it is a lost film and the catalog description



A Trip Around the Pan-American Exposition makes use of the viewer-as-passenger convention.

provides no certain answers to its possible construction. The historian must look elsewhere to trace the development of film narrative at Edison.

After the success of its Paris Exposition subjects, the Edison Company spent considerable energy securing films of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Again a mobile camera was heavily employed. A camera crew, probably including James White as producer and Edwin Porter as photographer, took the two-shot Opening, Pan-American Exposition , showing a parade of dignitaries and soldiers, on May 20th. This was soon followed by A Trip Around the Pan-American Exposition , a 625-foot subject photographed from a launch making a tour of the exposition's canals. The camera was assigned the role of privileged passenger and took in all the sights. This popular subject was also sold in 200, 300, 400, or 500-foot strips, depending on the desires of the exhibitor. For Panoramic View of Electric Tower from a Balloon , the camera caressed the electric tower with a vertical tilt up and down, recalling White's earlier treatment of the Eiffel Tower in Panorama of Eiffel Tower . The title


and catalog description, however, urged exhibitors to test their patrons' imagination—or gullibility: the camera, it was suggested, had been in a captured balloon that moved up and down next to the tower. By the beginning of June they had accumulated over twenty films, including Johnstown Flood, Aerio-Cycle , and Trip to the Moon —short scenes taken of specific attractions.[42] Once again, these were designed for longer, theme-oriented programs in which exhibitors asserted an authorial role. To facilitate these efforts, the Edison firm published a "Pan-American Supplement" that provided full descriptions of each film as material for the showman's live narration.[43]

A significant group of photographers were associated with the Edison Company by early 1901. Although William Paley was the only surviving licensee on the East Coast, William Wright or some other Edison-affiliated cameraman must have filmed President McKinley launching the battleship Ohio in San Francisco before a crowd of 50,000 cheering people.[44] Since late 1898 James White may occasionally have served as his own cameraman, but more typically he worked with Porter or Alfred C. Abadie when producing news films and actualities. Porter may have emerged as the only close to full-time Edison camera operator. The extent to which his collaboration with George S. Fleming continued outside the studio is unknown. Two Edison production units were active on May 30th, Decoration Day: Porter was probably in Ithaca, New York, taking Cornell-Columbia-University of Pennsylvania Boat Race , while another unit was at an amusement park filming Shooting the Chutes at Providence, Rhode Island .

While Edison cameramen were filming actualities all over the northeastern United States, Porter spent much of his time producing short comedies and trick films at the Edison studio and in nearby locations. Building Made Easy, or How Mechanics Work in the Twentieth Century (85 feet) used stop and reverse action to show a bricklayer and carpenter working effortlessly, constructing a building in ways that defied gravity. The building of New York's subway was the premise for The Finish of Michael Casey , yet another explosion film. Little Willie's Last Celebration , made to commemorate the Fourth of July, likewise ends with Willie in smithereens. Unfortunately these pictures were not copyrighted and do not survive.[45]

Edison Attains a Virtual Monopoly

On July 15, 1901, a decision recognizing Edison's patent claims was handed down in the U.S. circuit court for the southern district of New York. Judge Hoyt Henry Wheeler's tentatively worded opinion concluded: "The defendant appears to have taken the substance of the invention covered by these claims and the plaintiff, therefore, appears to be entitled to a decree."[46] While the defendant, the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, appealed to a higher court, it was allowed to continue operating under certain restrictions.[47] Yet even before Edison's victory, Biograph was struggling with financial adversity. That



New York Clipper, July 27, 1901, p. 480.


spring, the company had begun to lose money, a situation that continued well into 1902, if not beyond.[48] Its moving picture service was becoming less profitable and popular because the company was limited by its 70mm film format. Whereas exhibitors such as Vitagraph and George Spoor's Chicago-based Kinodrome Service could show European imports like Méliès' Cinderella on their 35mm projectors, Biograph could not do so. Biograph's logical move was to switch to a 35mm format, but its executives dared not do this, as their special-sized film could have provided a decisive distinction between the Edison and Biograph systems from a legal standpoint. The cost of litigation and the impact of Judge Wheeler's decision only furthered Biograph's decline.

Other "disruptive" elements within the industry were also affected by Judge Wheeler's decision. The Edison Company had hired Sigmund Lubin's chief photographer, Jacob (James) Blair Smith, starting July 14th. Smith, who assumed William Heise's old role, enjoyed a high weekly salary of $25 a week ($10 more than Porter's) because he could testify concerning Lubin's infringement on Edison's patents. As a result, after consulting with his lawyers, Lubin relocated to Germany.[49] With Lubin knocked out of competition, Vitagraph reduced to the role of exhibitor, and Biograph locked into a large-format film and on the commercial defensive, the Edison Company was on the verge of controlling the motion picture industry in America.

Edison's victory in the courts encouraged other holders of motion picture patents to negotiate a settlement. Thomas Armat, whose Armat Moving-Picture Company held important projection patents, was anxious to form a combination. To Thomas Edison, he argued that

Years have gone by and your proper profits in the business have not yet I believe materialized. The same is true of me. Every year cut off from my enjoyment of the fruits of my toil is a matter of loss. In looking over the field I am more and more convinced that the situation can be made to bear the full success of our hopes in but one way—by the formation of a trust into which you will throw your film patent, the Armat Company the Armat patents, and the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company its Mutoscope patents, together with a withdrawal of all further appeal on your film patent.

This combined action would establish a real monopoly, as no infringer would stand against a combination of all these strong elements. The way things are now the woods are full of small infringers who are reaping that which belongs to yourself and ourselves. . . . There is big money in all ends of this business if properly conducted and little in it otherwise.[50]

Armat's proposal revived earlier attempts at consolidation by Biograph and anticipated the combination of forces that eventually formed the basis for the Motion Picture Patents Company late in 1908. The trust Armat envisioned would, however, have centralized all activities within a single production office and hobbled the American industry for years. Although Armat and T. Cushing Daniel held meetings with Edison and Biograph, they could not agree on


the terms. Armat tended to view the projection patents as paramount, while Edison felt the same about his own position. The actual formation of a patents trust was to wait another six years until similar circumstances once again presented themselves.

When Edison's lawyer Howard W. Hayes learned of Edison's court victory, he sent Gilmore his congratulations from Europe and then asked:

Will it not be worth while to spend a little more money now in getting out a better class of films? I was surprised to find what good films they have here in Paris, they are very clear and with no jumps. Whenever any important even[t] happens like the Henley Boat Race, the films are on the market within two days afterwards.[51]

J. B. Smith, for one, helped to address some of these concerns. As foreman of the Edison film plant, Smith soon "made many improvements in the machinery and methods of taking and making pictures. At that time it required an hour to perforate 200 feet of film on a step punch which time has reduced to just one-third; it took 20 minutes to print the same length of film on what was known as continuous printers, which were succeeded by stop motion printers, which accomplished the same task in from six to seven minutes according to the density of the negative."[52] Smith, like Porter, was not only a cameraman but a mechanical expert.

The Edison Company continued active production in the wake of its court victory. Soubrette's Troubles on a Fifth Avenue Stage and What Happened on Twenty-Third Street, New York City appear to be ordinary street scenes at first, but each shows a woman unexpectedly revealing a significant portion of her undergarments. Both films featured A. C. Abadie as the swell and Florence Georgie as the unfortunate woman. In the latter picture, her dress is blown up when she steps over a Herald Square blow hole (anticipating Marilyn Monroe by fifty years).[53] Again, as Judith Mayne has pointed out, this is a film that appealed explicitly to male spectators.[54] Georgie's giggles reassure the spectator and authorize his look. Likewise the use of theatrical display and the performers' acknowledgment of the camera were perhaps necessary means of allaying the spectators' discomfort at an unexpected encounter with a forbidden, voyeuristic pleasure. Tom Gunning has called early cinema an exhibitionist cinema rather than a voyeuristic one as Christian Metz defines it. While this may be true, historically this rupturing of a self-enclosed fictional world usually mediated the spectators' experiences in ways that facilitated their voyeurism, not undermined it.[55] This is evident in Trapeze Disrobing Act , made that fall. The performer in this studio production was probably Charmion, whose "risque disrobing act on the flying trapeze" was popular at the turn of the century.[56] Although her striptease was performed for the camera and cine-viewers, the two male spectators inside the mise-en-scène authorized the film spectators' voyeurism. Such pictures were so "hot" that the Victorian males' repressive psychic mechanisms had to be allayed if these patrons were to find the intended pleasure rather than



Trapeze Disrobing Act.

unpleasure in their voyeurism. Produced for burlesque houses and "smokers," these films were by male filmmakers and for male spectators.

In contrast, one-shot comedies such as The Tramp's Miraculous Escape and The Photographer's Mishap were suited for "polite" vaudeville with its mixed-sex audiences. Both were photographed along train tracks, using stop-action techniques to simulate a train colliding with its victim.[57]Weary Willie and the Gardener and The Tramp and the Nursing Bottle , part of the tramp series, were shot in a park or in someone's backyard. Each recycled an earlier film gag. All of these comedies were made quickly and at minimal expense.

During their first six months, Porter and Fleming assumed editorial control only in highly circumscribed situations, chiefly by adding dependent tags as endings to one-shot comedies. Two films made in August and September 1901 suggest that they were moving beyond these constraints: Life Rescue at Long Branch and Sampson-Schley Controversy. Life Rescue at Long Branch , retitled Life Rescue at Atlantic City for the Edison catalog, presented a two-shot, staged rescue by lifeboat. It was a popular subject that Sigmund Lubin had filmed in Atlantic City during 1899. Lubin's Life Rescue was "the most wonderful picture ever taken. Two people went out too far in the ocean to bathe; the gentleman was drowned, the lady saved by the life guards, who can be seen swimming out to her."[58] The Edison film shows two different parts of a rescue, and connects



Sampson-Schley Controversy.

them with a dissolve. The major distinction between Life Rescue at Long Branch and earlier rescue films such as Ambulance Call and Ambulance at the Accident is the dissolve that ties the shots together and the corresponding assertion of editorial control by the cameraman/producer. It moved beyond the limitations of earlier Edison acted films as two shots of equal weight told a simple linear narrative. The film was more modest than James Williamson's Fire! made in England two months earlier, but it represented a minor advance in the Kinetograph Department's approach to filmmaking.

Sampson-Schley Controversy was based on an argument between two naval officers that had erupted onto the front pages of the popular press. The controversy concerned a naval battle in Santiago Bay during the Spanish-American War, the actions of the two principal American officers, and the question of who ultimately was in command. A political cartoon in Hearst's New York Journal provided Porter with a sketch for his film.[59] Since the cartoon reflected his own political sentiments, Porter probably found it an attractive subject to adapt.[60]

Sampson-Schley Controversy was first copyrighted as a two-shot film on August 15th and offered for sale. It was puffed in Edison advertisements as:


The greatest naval and dramatic Production ever attempted in animated pictures. Admiral Schley is depicted on the bridge of the "Brooklyn" commanding the American Fleet which is engaged with the Spanish fleet. A portion of Schley's crew appears in the immediate foreground of the picture furiously working a 13 inch gun and giving a dramatic demonstration of the famous picture "The Man Behind the Gun."[61]

The scene of Winfield Scott Schley on the bridge, which conforms to the first panel of the cartoon, is enhanced by the second shot, in which one member of the gun crew is killed. This illustrated a well-known incident of the battle in Santiago Bay, when Boatswain Ellis was killed and Schley insisted that his body remain on deck until it could be given a proper Christian burial.[62] Schley's conduct is associated with the actions of these courageous common sailors, while William T. Sampson was well known for his aristocratic pretensions.[63] Although mentioned in the title, Sampson was never shown in this version of the film. George Kleine thought that a more appropriate title would be Schley on the Bridge and Man Behind the Gun ; certainly it reflected the film's two-shot structure.[64] The sets were similar in both shots and used extreme theatrical foreshortening, with model boats in the far background representing the Spanish enemy.[65] The camera's framing of an identical background is slightly different in each shot, suggesting that the two scenes occur on different parts of the ship. The temporal relation between the two shots is vague, but potentially significant in light of Porter's later films: the relative positions of the model boats and the characters' behavior in each shot suggest a temporal repetition. It appears that these two aspects of the same battle occur simultaneously, but are shown successively on the screen.

Three weeks after its initial release, Porter added a final scene to Sampson-Schley Controversy . This was based on the second panel of the cartoon: "The conclusion of the picture shows Admiral Sampson at an afternoon Tea Party, the center of an admiring group of old maids. Length 200 ft."[66] A dissolve between the last two shots was achieved in the printing. The cartoon strip points out that Schley's actions on the Brooklyn occurred while the admiral was at a tea party. Contextual information thus indicates that all three shots of the Sampson-Schley Controversy represented actions occurring at the same time. The film raised the problem of depicting simultaneity, which Porter would confront again in later work. In the Sampson-Schley Controversy , however, this temporal simultaneity is only implicit. Audiences familiar with the cartoon or the controversy may have made the connection, or it may have been made for them by the showman. While temporal relations between shots were implied within the film itself, it was the exhibitor's or the spectator's task to define them more explicitly.

In expanding Sampson-Schley Controversy to three shots, Porter used his experience as a showman to produce a simple contrast: the man behind the gun/the man behind the tea cup. The use of contrast was an editorial strategy often employed by exhibitors. In an earlier Biograph program the operator showed a series of "couplets," including Blizzard in New York City/A Little Ray



A political cartoon in the New York Journal inspired Sampson-Schley Controversy.
 Captions established the temporal relationship between scenes.

of Sunshine and Cremation/Hatching Chickens .[67] Similar combinations had also been suggested by slide producers for pre-cinema lantern shows. Clearly Porter had appropriated editorial responsibility formerly within the domain of the exhibitor to make a political comment. The acceptance of this new role was still limited: Kleine, for instance, was a Republican who may have sympathized with


Sampson and so chose not to sell the last scene-essentially registering an editorial veto. Although the film could still be used by showmen either within a variety format as a political editorial or as part of a larger program on the Spanish-American War (such programs continued to be popular), the tension between cameraman/producer and showman/exhibitor with regard to editorial responsibility had emerged as a central issue.

Mckinley Pictures

When President McKinley went to the Pan-American Exposition early in September 1901, James White and an Edison camera crew were present to take advantage of their special photographic concession. On September 5th they took a simple one-shot film of McKinley delivering a speech that praised American business, competition, and the tariff. The next day, while holding a reception in the Temple of Music, the president was shot in the chest and abdomen by Leon Czolgosz, a Cleveland anarchist. The Edison crew, waiting outside, took a "circular panorama" of the anxious crowd soon after the assassination was announced. Suddenly, the Edison Manufacturing Company had a moving picture exclusive on the biggest news event of the new century: "Our cameras were the only ones at work at the Pan-American Exposition on the day of President McKinley's speech, Thursday September 5th and on Friday September 6th, the day of the shooting. We secured the only animated pictures incidental to these events."[68] Three films, fewer than first announced, were offered for sale: President McKinley's Speech at the Pan-American Exposition, President McKinley Reviewing Troops at the Pan-American Exposition , and Mob Outside the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition .[69] Shortly thereafter, frame enlargements were published in the New York World , along with a brief article featuring White's role and mentioning several anonymous employees, almost certainly including Edwin Porter and J. Blair Smith.[70]

When President McKinley died a week after the shooting, Edison employees filmed the funeral ceremonies as they moved from Buffalo to Washington to McKinley's hometown of Canton, Ohio. Eleven films were offered for sale. These were no longer simple, single-shot subjects comparable to those the Edison Company had sold during the Spanish-American War. Most scenes, such as Taking President McKinley's Body from Train at Canton, Ohio , consisted of several shots that were too brief to be easily sold or exhibited individually. With the Edison Company anxious to get these groupings of moving snapshots on the market, they released unedited camera rushes that included flash frames.

When purchasing the McKinley films, exhibitors had two basic choices: they could either acquire single subjects for their programs or purchase a prearranged selection of subjects joined together by dissolving effects. The Complete Funeral Cortege at Canton, Ohio (675 feet) is one example of this second option. The order given by the Edison Company was:



McKinley's last speech.

Arriving at Canton Station (40 feet)

Body Leaving Train at Canton, Ohio (60 feet)

President Roosevelt at Canton Station (90 feet)

Circular Panorama of President McKinley's House (80 feet)

President McKinley's Body Leaving the House and Church (200 feet)

Funeral Cortege Entering Westlawn Cemetery at Canton, Ohio (200 feet)[71]

Dissolving from scene to scene, the production company was able to give the exhibitor a standardized program with a little something extra.

Many, perhaps most, exhibitors chose not to abdicate their editorial role. A programme from the Searchlight Theater in Tacoma, Washington, shows that a different selection was made for its display of McKinley films. The traveling exhibitor Lyman Howe also devoted a substantial portion of his semiannual tour to films of the Pan-American Exposition and McKinley's funeral, but presented yet another selection and ordering.[72] Although a programme does not survive for John P. Dibble's presentations, this New Haven-based traveling showman began with films of the Pan-American Exposition, included McKinley's last speech, and ended with the funeral ceremonies.[73]

Exhibitors enjoyed a financial windfall as people flocked to see the



Pan-American Exposition by Night goes from day to night as the camera makes a sweeping pan of the exposition.

McKinley/Exposition films. Edison likewise benefited. From October to December 1901, when these films were in greatest demand, the Kinetograph Department set a sales record unmatched during any three-month period between 1900 and 1904.[74] Porter and his associates continued to exploit this trend with The Martyred Presidents (© October 7, 1901), a film indebted to nineteenth-century magic-lantern subjects like Our Departed Heroes .[75] In the film's opening scene, photographs of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley fade in and out, framed by the static image of a monument. The second shot, a brief tag, shows the assassin kneeling before the throne of justice. The dissolving on and off of photographs, once done by the exhibitor in lantern shows, was now done by the moving picture photographer. While the catalog considered the film "most valuable as an ending to the series of McKinley funeral pictures,"[76] the question of its placement in a program was a decision left to the exhibitor.

Kinetograph personnel invested further energies in the Buffalo area during mid to late October. Shortly after making The Martyred Presidents , Porter photographed Pan-American Exposition by Night[77] While Porter and subsequent historians referred to this film for its early use of time-lapse photography, its two-shot construction is also noteworthy. There is a pan in the first shot taken during the day that is continued from the same point, in the same direction, and at the same pace in the second shot filmed at night. Here Porter combined two common stereopticon procedures. The temporal relation between the two shots is characteristic of day/night dissolving views, a popular genre of lantern show entertainments: the image of a building during the day gradually dissolved to the identical view at night (the second view was often produced by using a day-for-night technique). The panorama as a genre pre-dated the cinema by more than a hundred years and found its way into many forms of popular culture, including lantern shows, for which long slides were slowly moved through the lantern. In 1900 it was adapted to moving pictures as the "circular panorama,"


with the photographer rather than the projectionist responsible for the speed and direction of the movement. The combination of day/night dissolving views with a panorama in moving pictures was a visual tour de force. "This picture is pronounced by the photographic profession to be a marvel in photography, and by theatrical people to be the greatest winner in panoramic views ever placed before the public," declared the Edison catalog.[78]

The principle of multi-camera coverage, which the Edison Company had applied to important news events in the late 1890s, continued, not only with the McKinley funeral pictures but for Captain Nissen Going Through Whirlpool Rapids, Niagara Falls , photographed on October 10, 1901. As an Edison description explained,

Captain Bowser is shown embarking in his boat at Niagara Falls, Ontario. After he carefully embarks, the 'Fool Killer' is taken in tow by a rowboat and towed out into the stream. Here the captain is seen to go below the whaleback deck and close the hatch. Then the trip through the Rapids begins. One of our cameras, which was operated by a second photographer, was in waiting on a trolley car, and the progress of the 'Fool Killer' is followed on its entire trip through the mad waters.[79]

Here the advantages of having two cameras focus on two different aspects of a single situation were apparent. Just prior to the closing of the exposition, the photographers shot their last Pan-American films, including another night view of the exposition (Panorama of Esplanade by Night ). They also took two short panoramas of nearby Auburn State Prison on October 29th, the morning that Czolgosz was executed inside.[80]

Executions, still considered a form of entertainment by some turn-of-the-century Americans, had been popular film subjects during the novelty phase of cinema. Audiences had been impressed that the image of someone who was demonstrably dead could appear so lifelike.[81] With sensationalistic newspapers detailing the steps leading to Czolgosz's death and the New York Times noting the large number of applicants who hoped to watch McKinley's assassin die, it was hardly surprising that the Edison firm chose to make Execution of Czolgosz, with Panorama of Auburn Prison .[82]

The New York World reported that "the owner of a kinetoscope telegraphed that he would pay $2,000 for permission to take a moving picture of Czolgosz entering the death chamber."[83] If White and Porter hoped to film Czolgosz on his way to being executed, they had to be content with filming the exterior of the prison and making "a realistic imitation of the last scene in the electric chair." This studio reenactment, "faithfully carried out from the description of an eye witness" was based, one can be sure, on newspaper reports.[84] Edison production personnel took roles in the film, and James White can be seen signaling "cut" to the cameraman (Porter) just before the film ends. (According to Iris Barry, the Edison Company also tried to recreate Czolgosz's assassination of McKinley, but finally thought better of it.)[85]



Execution of Czolgosz.

Although Execution of Czolgosz, with Panorama of Auburn Prison contains only four shots and "three scenes," the resulting film has a surprisingly sophisticated structure. According to the Edison catalog:

The picture is in three scenes. First: Panoramic view of Auburn Prison taken the morning of the electrocution. The picture then dissolves into the corridor of murderer's row. The keepers are seen taking Czolgosz from his cell to the death chamber. The scene next dissolves into the death chamber, and shows State Electrician, Wardens and Doctors making final test of the chair. Czolgosz is then brought in by the guard and is quickly strapped into the chair. The current is turned on at a signal from the Warden, and the assassin heaves heavily as though the straps would break. He drops prone after the current is turned off. The doctors examine the body and report to the Warden that he is dead, and he in turn officially announces the death to the witnesses. 200 ft.[86]

The film's longer, copyright title acknowledges that it is a hybrid that combined two genres: the panorama and the dramatic reenactmerit. An exhibitor could buy the narrative portion with or without the opening panoramas. Thus the editorial decision of the producers could be disregarded if the exhibitor so de-


sired. The film, however, was not simply two separate subjects held together by a dissolve and a common theme: it also made use of a spatial, exterior/interior relation between shots that was beginning to be employed by other filmmakers.[87] The dissolve between the first two scenes not only linked outside and inside, but actuality and reenactment, description and narrative, a moving and a static camera.

The panoramas at the beginning provide the narrative with a context, a well-constructed world in which the action can unfold. Photographed on the day of the execution, the first shot pans with a train as it approaches the prison and then reveals an empty passenger car.[88] It was such a car that brought the witnesses to the prison and led to the final stages of the execution.[89] The second shot shows a more foreboding portion of the facade. These shots distinguish this reenactment film from its contemporaries by heightening the realism. At the same time, they are part of a drama that leads the audience step by step to a vicarious confrontation with the electric chair and a man's death.

The temporal/spatial relation between the second and third scenes is more complex than a casual viewing would suggest. For a modern audience, schooled in the strategies of classical cinema, the pause before Czolgosz's entrance in the last scene facilitates the illusion of linear continuity by allowing time for the prisoner to move from one part of the prison to another. The New York Times noted, however, that "Czolgosz was confined in the cell nearest to the death chamber, so that when he entered the execution room this morning he had only to step a few feet through the stone arch."[90] This spatial relation between the two rooms was known by Edison personnel and most spectators: it suggests the kind of temporal overlap occasionally found in theater. The narrative event was not structured like the descriptions in the New York Times and New York Journal . These started with (1) the activities in the death chamber prior to Warden Mead's signal to have the prisoner brought in—including the testing of the chair, (2) then moved to Czolgosz's cell and his march down the corridor, and (3) shifted back to the death chamber with a description of the execution. The Times maintained a rigorous chronological account of events, while moving freely from a description of activities in one space to activities in another. Porter, in contrast, maintained individual scenes intact by manipulating early cinema's flexible pro-filmic temporality.

Execution of Czolgosz is remarkable for its control of pro-filmic elements. There is a purposeful elaboration of plot in the dramatic portion of the film: Czolgosz is not simply led off and executed. At the beginning of the second scene, the prisoner is at the doorway of his cell. After a few moments, the guards enter from the right, and he withdraws from the doorway. The guards open the cell door, go in and bring him out. He is brought from his cell reluctantly but without resistance. Acting and gesture are restrained, motivated by the desire to reenact the execution in as realistic a manner as possible, in marked contrast to Porter's comedies, which were indebted to burlesque and the comic strip. De-


viations from the norms of classical cinema in acting style and schematic set construction have sometimes been attributed to the naivete of early cinema, a lack of control over pro-filmic elements and insensitivity to "the demands of the medium." In Execution of Czolgosz , control and sensitivity are not the issues. This affirms the fact that Porter's comedies were "crude" because he was working within a genre where crudity was expected—burlesque and realism being fundamentally at cross-purposes. Yet despite the reliance on reenactment in Execution of Czolgosz , the two interior scenes are photographed against sets that show a single wall running perpendicular to the axis of the camera lens. As with The Finish of Bridget McKeen , the images lack almost all suggestion of depth—flattened not only by the sets but by the actors, who move parallel to the walls.

Edison's Conservative Business Strategy

From mid July 1901 to mid March 1902, a period of eight months, the Edison Manufacturing Company had a virtual monopoly in film production and sales within the United States. Rather than anticipating a possible reversal in the higher courts and parlaying this potentially short-term legal windfall into a long-term business advantage, Gilmore and White pursued a conservative, shortsighted business policy. Rather than investing in expensive productions that might yield lasting benefits, they produced inexpensive actualities and duped European spectacles to avoid high negative costs. Thomas Edison needed money for his other business schemes and was clearly unwilling to allocate funds for the Kinetograph Department. As he wrote in mid December 1901, "I am putting all my ducats in the storage battery."[91] Underfinanced, the Edison Company directed revenues toward attorney fees rather than into uncertain production ventures.

While producing McKinley films, Porter paused to photograph the America's Cup races off Sandy Hook in late September and early October, including "Columbia" and "Shamrock II," Start of Second Race , and Panoramic View of the Fleet After Yacht Race . This group of eight short films was also offered to exhibitors as a complete set, with dissolving effects melding them into a single program totaling 775 feet.[92]

During this period, filling special orders was an important part of the Kinetograph Department's business. James White later explained that the Edison Company "took pictures for people at special prices per foot for the negative and a special price per foot for the positive printed therefrom. These negative films remained in possession of the Edison Manufacturing Company but were the property of the people for whom they were exposed. The positive films were issued from them only on written order and in accordance with the price agreed upon at the time the negatives were taken."[93] Since the resulting pictures were neither copyrighted nor entered into Edison catalogs, the full dimensions of these activities remain unknown. However, in early November, White took a


moving picture from the rear end of a train "to be used by 'Dare Devil' Schreyer in his sensational 'mile-a-minute ride behind a train' on the stage of Keith's Theatre, New York."[94] Many orders were made by or executed through the rapidly growing Kinetograph Company with the help of silent partners White and Schermerhorn. In October 1901 "the largest contract ever known in the moving picture business" had the Kinetograph Company exhibiting special films for Mayor Richard Crocker's reelection campaign. Projected images played prominent roles on both sides as Seth Low's Fusion ticket fought Crocker's Tammany Hall gang.[95] A typical Kinetograph Company exhibition occurred on a large canvas covering the front of a saloon run by James J. Dowling, brother of the local Democratic district leader. One selection was "a cartoon representing Seth Low standing in a waste[basket] and showered with Tammany votes."[96] As several hundred people watched, the machine burst into flames, terminating the exhibition—an appropriate denouement, for Low was soon victorious. Afterwards Waters offered to sell fifty projecting machines "which have been used less than one month; complete and guaranteed in every part."[97]

Soon after the Crocker contract, the Kinetograph Company engaged White to film The Jeffries and Ruhlin Sparring Contest at San Francisco, Cal., November 15, 1901 and undoubtedly hoped the results could be toured like The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight or The Jeffries-Sharkey Fight . White's expenses for taking the pictures totaled $457.[98] Although the Edison manager later claimed to have traveled across the country alone, the inactivity of the Edison studio during November and December suggests that Porter may have accompanied him. Certainly Porter's experience as an electrician would have been valuable in lighting the indoor event, a difficult task, at which the Vitagraph and Edison companies had failed two years earlier.[99] Immediately before the fight,

The attendants began to stretch new canvas on the ring and a dozen men with ladders and a whole tool shop began to pull and haul at a great square of boards and canvas that hung over the squared circle. It was the kinetoscope apparatus, eighty powerful arc lights and four Navy searchlights. For ten minutes the electricians swung through the rafters getting everything in readiness. On the Grove street side of the Pavillion a temporary booth with glaring red peep holes held the business part of the machine.[100]

These powerful lights produced extreme heat, which the combatants felt from the very beginning.[101] The fight only lasted five rounds, limiting the film's commercial usefulness. As White later recalled, "the pictures were not long enough in themselves to form a complete exhibition, and therefore they had to be put in vaudeville as a short act. A bull fight would be, I think, fifteen or twenty rounds. The film I took would take about twenty minutes to exhibit at the usual rate of speed."[102] After selling a copy of the fight film to someone on the West Coast, the Edison Company assumed ownership of the subject and credited Waters' account. The sales price on this subject was raised to 25¢ a foot, with


the added fee serving as a royalty and presumably going to the fighters.[103] The Kinetograph Company still showed the fight film at Miner's Eighth Avenue Theater during the first two weeks of December; it was then copyrighted and offered for sale to the general public.[104]

The West Coast expedition turned into a reprise of White's 1897-98 tour of the West and Mexico. Soon after the fight, he was in British Columbia taking films for the Canadian Pacific Railroad (Panoramic View, Kicking Horse Canyon ). These later views of dramatic scenery were taken from the front of a moving train near Golden and Leanchoil. Back in the Bay Area, White produced numerous films for travel lectures (Fishing at Faralone Island, Chinese Shaving Scene ). He then visited Southern California (Ostrich Farms at Pasadena ) before heading south to Mexico City, where he filmed The Great Bull Fight on February 2, 1902.[105] This 1,000-foot film was sold in whatever lengths the exhibitor might desire.

During White's three-month absence, East Coast production was slight. On November 16th, an Edison cameraman shot Automobile Parade on the Coney Island Boulevard with "perhaps 100 machines in line, big and little, old and new, steam, electric and gasoline."[106] The parade, sponsored by the Long Island Automobile Club, was part of the preliminaries to a series of races in which Frenchman Henri Fourier, "the King of Chauffeurs," drove a "lightning mile" in 51 4/5 seconds. These races, which made the front page of New York papers, were delayed, and lack of light probably prevented them from being successfully kinetographed. The new year began with the filming of the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia. James Smith may have been responsible for both productions.

With few new studio productions to sell, the Edison Company used its legal position to acquire original negatives from former competitors. A group of Vitagraph subjects from 1900 were acquired and copyrighted in Edison's name in mid December. These included The Mysterious Care, Harry Tompson's Imitations of Sousa, Roeher Wrestling Match, The Artist's Dilemma , and The Fat and Lean Wrestling Match . Edison's sales listings were also enhanced by "dupes." Méliès' Little Red Riding Hood and other Houdin trick films were added to the Edison catalog in the later part of 1901.

Production at the Edison studio resumed in January 1902, coinciding with Porter's increase in salary to $20 a week. From this point forward, the former exhibitor turned cameraman assumed firmer control over studio production. While collaborations with George Fleming and others continued, Porter was at the center of these activities. This new situation began with a series of trick films, some of which were remakes of foreign subjects.[107] In Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show , a rube confuses the projected image with real life and, trying to interfere with events shown on the screen, disrupts the show. Though this gag was as old as projected moving pictures, Porter's comedy was indebted to an earlier film by Robert Paul, The Countryman's First Sight of the Animated Pictures .[108] Porter's remake substituted Edison scenes and titles for the films


within the film. Since the comedy's production required mattes and optical reduction, it posed a technical challenge Porter must have found intriguing. The Twentieth Century Tramp; or, Happy Hooligan and His Airship was indebted to Ferdinand Zecca's A la conquête de l'air .[109] It used a split screen image: the top half showed a tramp on a bicycle pedaling his balloon-airship against a plain background, while the bottom half is a "circular panorama" of the city. In the pre-cinema lantern world, such images had been achieved by the use of multiple projections, allowing each slide—each part of the image on the screen—to unfold independently in time. It is easy to conceive of a lantern show similar to The Twentieth Century Tramp , in which a mechanical slide of a tramp was projected onto the top half of the screen and a moving panorama on the bottom. Practically, the new technology of moving pictures required that such composites be executed on the film rather than on the screen, and they were one element in the gradual consolidation of creativity within the production company.

Upon his return to New York, manager James White spurred East Coast production, revitalizing the concept of cinema as a visual newspaper. Edison personnel photographed Paterson, New Jersey, shortly after its devastating fire on February 9th (Panorama of the Paterson Fire ). Cameramen had arrived too late to shoot any actual firefighting. As a result, the films emphasized spectacle and landscape, displaying the devastation with sweeping panoramas. No effort was made to show how the fire affected people's lives. On February 15th The Burning of Durland's Riding Academy was taken at Central Park West between Sixty-first and Sixty-second streets in New York City. The panning camera captured firemen hosing down the still smoldering remains. Since the film was only of local importance, it was renamed Firemen Fighting the Flames at Paterson and sold as footage of the better-known event. Relabeling films to increase their commercial potential was neither unusual nor "naive" but consistent with the highly opportunistic business ethics of Edison and other film producers.

On February 17th, the Kinetograph Department photographed New York City in a Blizzard .[110] Immediately after the snowfall, Porter and his associates made Capture of the Biddle Brothers , reenacting the sensational shoot-out between the Biddle brothers and law officers. This one-shot film of a newsworthy event was executed in the cool, controlled style of Execution of Czolgosz . The Edison catalog informed potential purchasers:


The public throughout the world is acquainted with the sensational capture of the Biddle Brothers and Mrs. Soffel, who, through the aid of Mrs. Soffel, escaped from the Pittsburg jail on January 30th, 1902. Our picture, which is a perfect reproduction of the capture, is realistic and exciting. It shows the sheriffs in two sleighs coming down the hill on the snow covered road. Mrs. Soffel and the Biddle Brothers appear in the foreground going toward the sheriffs. Immediately the sheriffs are seen by Ed. Biddle, he stops the sleigh, and rising, begins firing at the sheriffs with a shotgun. He is the first to be shot and falls to the ground in a snow bank, but, game to the last, he rises


on one elbow and fires shot after shot with his revolver. Mrs. Soffel and the second Biddle then begin firing. When Mrs. Soffel sees that their capture is certain, she attempts to take her own life by shooting herself with the pistol. The sheriffs are finally victorious and the two convicts with the unfortunate woman are loaded into the sheriffs' double sleigh. Class A. 125 ft.[111]

In late February and early March, the Kinetograph Department filmed Prince Henry of Prussia's visit to the United States. Edison cameramen photographed the royal visitor's arrival in New York City and followed him to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the prince met the German-American psychologist and philosopher Hugo Münsterberg at Harvard. Porter was even sent to Chicago to photograph Prince Henry at Lincoln's Monument, Chicago, Illinois .[112] The most noteworthy films were of the christening of Kaiser Wilhelm's yacht Meteor at Shooter's Island, taken on February 25, 1902. In this last situation, Edwin Porter and Jacob Smith filmed the Meteor entering the water simultaneously from their two different camera positions. When these two films, Christening and Launching Kaiser Wilhelm's Yacht "Meteor " and Kaiser Wilhelm's Yacht "Meteor" Entering the Water were shown together, what had been filmed simultaneously was shown successively. Exhibitors could present the same event from two different points of view, offering their patrons a double perspective that might be described as a novelty.

Edison films taken in the winter of 1901-2 were principally actuality subjects. Like Cutting and Canaling Ice , taken in Groton, Massachusetts, most consisted of several shots taken at approximately the same time and place. These single, but elaborated, scenes were still small enough for showmen to incorporate into larger sequences, but allowed the producer to perform an editorial function as well. The few studio films made in early 1902 included Facial Expression , which showed "one of the most talented lady facial expression artists in the world, executing the most amusing facial gyrations."[113] Two others of the same genre followed. Burlesque Suicide, No. 1 and Burlesque Suicide, No. 2 were medium shots of a despairing man putting a gun to his head. In one version he takes a drink instead of pulling the trigger; in the other he points his finger at the camera and laughs.[114]

While comedies and fairy-tale films were popular with audiences, the lack of competition meant that the Kinetograph Department did not have to cater extensively to this demand. Many could be imported and duped. Edison's New York studio was used less during the winter of 1901-2 than when it first opened. Unnecessary expenses (actors' salaries, sets, etc.) could thus be avoided. The shift toward story films then taking place in Europe was delayed in the United States by legal and business factors.

William Paley, who remained an Edison licensee into 1902, continued to take actualities that ended up in the Edison catalog. Montreal Fire Department on Runners , taken in March 1901 for the opening of a Proctor theater in that city, showed a fire run that demonstrated the Canadians' use of sleighs for


firefighting purposes. Two months later, Paley took local views of the trolley car strike in Albany, New York. These, too, were shown in the local Proctor theater. "Paley's kalatechnoscope will blossom out this week by displaying several moving pictures incidental to the big trolley car strike of last week," reported the Albany Evening Journal . "A picture of the Third Signal Corps escorting the repair wagon down State street will be shown, also the first car that was run down State street with militiamen as passengers, besides other interesting incidents."[115] These were greeted by loud rounds of applause from the predominantly anti-union audience at Proctor's and then offered for sale as The Great Albany Car Strike .[116] Paley took more films in or near Montreal during 1902. These included Skiing in Montreal (© February 10, 1902), Coasting Scene at Montmorency Falls, Canada , and Arrival of the Governor General, Lord Minto, at Quebec (© February 17, 1902).[117] These served as a modest supplement to Edison's own output.

Histories of early cinema often refer to a decline in the popularity of moving pictures around the turn of the century, particularly in vaudeville theaters, where motion pictures were the last act on the bill and large portions of the audience left when the films were shown. These programs were often known as "chasers," and for this reason these years have often been called "the chaser period." Disfavor has generally been attributed to a jaded audience tiring of actuality scenes and news footage. Although at least one recent historian has dismissed this as a myth perpetuated by gullible scholars, data from different branches of the film industry indicate that cinema did experience a period of retrenchment and even contraction early in the twentieth century.[118] The Edison Company's near monopoly contributed to these difficulties. The Kinetograph Department would have had to expand its production levels rapidly if other branches of the industry were to have remained unaffected by the court decision. Instead, as the preceding section has shown, the Edison corporation pursued a self-serving business policy. As one might expect, Edison film sales (and profits) increased significantly during the 1901-2 business year-roughly 68 percent, from $49,756 to $82,108. This increase, however, was not equivalent to the sales lost by the inventor's competitors. Sales of projecting kinetoscopes, moreover, remained the same as the year before the Edison monopoly.

While Edison's legal actions contributed to difficulties in the motion picture industry, evidence also suggests that the concept of cinema as a visual newspaper needed to be rethought. Actuality subjects were losing much of their appeal. As long as the Edison Manufacturing Company was the only American business selling news films, this decline was not an immediate problem, since it controlled the entire market. Only when Edison's competitors reentered the moving picture field in the spring of 1902 did the Kinetograph Department have to rethink its production patterns.


Defeated in the Courts, Edison Faces Renewed Competition

The circuit court decision upholding Edison's patents was reversed on March 10, 1902, by the court of appeals. The lower court was instructed to dismiss the bill of complaint against Biograph with costs. In his closely analyzed opinion, Judge William James Wallace wrote:

It is obvious that Mr. Edison was not a pioneer, in the large sense of the term, or in the more limited sense in which he would have been if he had also invented the film. He was not the inventor of the film. He was not the first inventor of apparatus capable of producing suitable negatives, taken from practically a single point of view, in single-line sequence, upon a film like his, and embodying the same general means of rotating drums and shutters for bringing the sensitized surface across the lens, and exposing successive portions of it in rapid succession. Du Cos anticipated him in this, notwithstanding he did not use the film. Neither was he the first inventor of an apparatus capable of producing suitable negatives, and embodying means for passing a sensitized surface across a single-lens camera at a high rate of speed, and with an intermittent motion, and for exposing successive portions of the surfaces during the periods of rest. His claim for such an apparatus was rejected by the patent office, and he acquiesced in its rejection. He was anticipated in this by Marey, and Marey also anticipated him in photographing successive positions of the object in motion from the same point of view.

The predecessors of Edison invented apparatus, during a period of transition from plates to flexible paper film, and from paper film to celluloid film, which was capable of producing negatives suitable for reproduction in exhibiting machines. No new principle was to be discovered, or essentially new form of machine invented, in order to make the improved photographic material available for that purpose. The early inventors had felt the need of such material, but, in the absence of its supply, had either contented themselves with such measure of practical success as was possible, or had allowed their plans to remain upon paper as indications of the forms of mechanical and optical apparatus which might be used when suitable photographic surfaces became available. They had not perfected the details of apparatus especially adapted for the employment of the film of the patent, and to do this required but a moderate amount of mechanical ingenuity. Undoubtedly Mr. Edison, by utilizing this film and perfecting the first apparatus for using it, met all the conditions necessary for commercial success. This, however, did not entitle him, under the patent laws, to a monopoly of all camera apparatus capable of utilizing the film. Nor did it entitle him to a monopoly of all apparatus employing a single camera.[119]

Edison's patents were rejected, and the inventor had to seek patent reissues with new, narrower claims.

Biograph revived its business and began to merchandise Warwick films, duped Méliès subjects, and 35mm reduction prints of its own large format films.[120] Biograph thus had a two-pronged business strategy, in which the company produced pictures exclusively for its own exhibition circuit, but eventually sold the subjects after their "first-run" potential was exhausted. As we have


seen, this approach was similar to Vitagraph's during the 1890s. The transition to 35mm films was difficult for Biograph and took over a year to complete. Company executives initially straddled the problem by offering two services: the old, 70mm Biograph service and the new, 35mm "Biographet" service.[121] The large-gauge projectors at Keith theaters could only show Biograph's own productions. The 35mm service used imported films, but did not receive sufficient attention to make it fully competitive with Vitagraph or the Kinetograph Company. Biograph was hampered by the technological incompatibility of its two services.

Judge Wallace's decision freed all American film producers from immediate legal constraints. Vitagraph resumed the production of news topicals and other subjects for use on its expanding exhibition circuit. Chicago producer William Selig, who had remained relatively unaffected by the eastern court battles, resumed advertising in the New York Clipper .[122] Sigmund Lubin returned from Europe and reactivated his business. He not only resumed production but sold duplicate copies of copyrighted Edison productions, notably those of Prince Henry's American tour. In a quid pro quo, Lubin was disrupting Edison's business just as Edison had disrupted his. The "Wizard" promptly challenged Lubin with a lawsuit, but was denied a preliminary injunction, leaving the Philadelphia optician free to pursue these activities while the case worked its way through the courts.[123]

Renewed competition forced the Kinetograph Department to reassess its business policy. In some areas, Gilmore and White refused to change. With Lubin consistently underselling Edison's rate of fifteen cents per foot for prints by three cents, Gilmore did what he had done with the National Phonograph Company. He refused to lower prices and insisted that Edison's product was the standard against which all competitors should be judged:


We have no cheap films to offer, but we will give you the finest subjects procurable at a fair price; films that are worth owning and that will cultivate the public's taste for motion picture shows instead of disgusting them.[124]

The Edison Company also announced an increase in the size of its photographic staff and the number of picture-taking operators.[125] By midsummer it was employing three active photographers. In the United States, Porter remained based in the New York studio and also took some actualities, while J. Blair Smith traveled along the East Coast taking news and travel films. In Europe, the Lebanese-American cameraman Alfred C. Abadie was responsible for supplying the Kinetograph Department with his own original subjects as well as prints of the best European releases. In addition, James White and one or two others occasionally photographed new subjects.

White left for Europe in April to arrange for the importation of film subjects and to photograph the coronation of Edward VII.[126] Although the crowning


was postponed owing to Edward's poor health, the department manager was able to shoot films of his trip. Among those copyrighted and offered for sale in June were The S.S. "Deutschland" Leaving the Dock in Hoboken, The S.S. "Deutschland" in a Storm, No. 1 and Shuffleboard on S.S. "Deutschland. " White may have been accompanied by Abadie, who then remained in Europe to represent Edison's interests. By August, Abadie was sending back coronation films to be duped at West Orange. One of these was hand-carried by Edison lawyer Howard Hayes. On shipboard, Hayes sent notice of his imminent arrival:
U.S.M.S. "Philadelphia"
Friday, August 22, 1902

My dear Gilmore:

We get in early tomorrow morning, probably about 9 o'clock. I will telegraph you to that effect from quarantine where we are due about mid-night. I have a new film of the coronation taken by another company which Abadie gave me to give to White for him to "dub." I shall get to my house not later than noon, so if no one comes to the wharf for it you had better send a messenger to my house for it any time after twelve. The negative of the coronation Naval Review will arrive about next Wednesday. Abadie [said] he could not get them off earlier than Wednesday the 20th . . . . [127]

The timely importation of English and French subjects would continue to concern Gilmore and White for the next several years. Edison was increasing its duping of foreign films for the American market and attempting to acquire these before Biograph, Vitagraph, or Lubin.

While actualities and short comedies still provided Edison with the bulk of its original productions, longer studio-made films began to play a key role as the company sought to maintain commercial dominance. This development, which put new emphasis on the studio where Porter was in charge, was reflected in the production of four "story" films: Appointment by Telephone (© May 2, 1902), Jack and the Beanstalk (© June 20, 1902), How They Do Things on the Bowery (© October 31, 1902), and Life of an American Fireman (© January 21, 1903).

Appointment by Telephone is a simple, three-shot comedy in which Porter achieved a smooth narrative progression from one scene to the next.[128]


Two young men are seated in a broker's office. A young lady calls one of them on the telephone and makes an appointment to meet him at a certain restaurant. The scene dissolves to the outside of a restaurant, and the young man appears waiting for the young lady, who soon comes along and they go inside. The scene dissolves again and shows the interior of the restaurant and the young couple coming in and taking their seats at a table next to the window. The young man's wife happens to pass the window just as they get seated, and looking in recognizes him. She confronts the pair in the restaurant in a state of great anger just as the waiter is serving champagne; then the trouble begins. The table and chairs are wrecked, and the husband and young lady



Appointment by Telephone.

are severely horsewhipped by the enraged wife. A very fine photograph, full of action from start to finish, and a subject that will appeal to everyone. 100 ft.[129]

It was a remake of a two-part Edison subject from 1896:


A gay young man in a Wall Street broker's office, with wicked intentions makes an engagement with a pretty typewriter. The sequel brings about his discomforture and the triumph of the typewriter.


The gay young man with the wicked intentions, from his Wall Street broker's office, hies himself to the place of appointment and meets the pretty typewriter. Just as they are sitting down to supper his irate wife appears upon the scene and there is a denouement. The wicked young man is exposed and disgraced by his wife's explanation.[130]

Not only was the 1902 remake sold as a single subject, but Porter added another shot, taken outside the restaurant. The three-shot film isolates a beginning (the


appointment), a middle (the meeting), and an end (the confrontation with the wife). The second shot establishes the space from which the wife spies her husband's infidelities. The film employs not only an exterior/interior spatial relationship between shots 2 and 3 but a reverse angle to show overlapping space. This construction of a fictional world is achieved as the young man and his female companion exit in shot 2 and enter in shot 3 and is reinforced by the movement of the wife from the sidewalk to the interior of the restaurant in the final scene. Temporal continuity is established between these two shots, although it remains imprecise: the set in the third shot is constructed and filmed in such a way that even the possibility of matching action is excluded. Unlike earlier Edison films, the sets have corners and additional walls: they are no longer simple flats erected parallel to the camera. The elaboration of space both in terms of editorial strategy and set construction occurs simultaneously.

Appointment by Telephone can be seen as a sketch, an experiment in cinematic representation, which Porter immediately employed in Jack and the Beanstalk , a ten-shot narrative more than twice the length of any previous studio-made film. Porter was assisted by James White's brother, Arthur.[131] "It was a matter of great difficulty, and required great artistic skill to arrange all the different scenes, pose the various subjects and take the views successfully," claimed Porter in a deposition. "It took in the neighborhood of six weeks in the spring of 1902 to successfully make this photograph."[132]

Fairy tales had gripped the romantic imagination at the beginning of the nineteenth century, providing a vision that combined innocence, myth, and age-old tradition, which were rapidly being undermined by a capitalist economy. They lent themselves to either radical interpretations of a lost equality and harmonious past, or conservative memories of contentment, ignorance, and piety on the part of the folk.[133] Porter, however, turned to a version of Jack and the Beanstalk that had been bowdlerized so as to provide a moral justification for Jack's robbing of the giant. The result, in the words of Bruno Bettelheim, makes the film "a moral tale of retribution rather than a story of manhood achieved."[134]

By the end of the century, fairy tales had been largely relegated to children, who were entertained and socialized by such lantern shows as Cinderella, Robinson Crusoe, Bluebeard, Gulliver's Travels , and Jack and the Beanstalk . These subjects briefly regained an adult audience as Georges Méliès and G. A. Smith revitalized this screen staple, making fairy-tale films an important genre of early cinema. The theatrical tradition of pantomimes, which generally used fairy tales as a narrative premise, also provided an important model for films of this genre, particularly in respect to acting style. (But less often a narrative model. Pantomimes customarily sacrificed narrative for spectacle. With the exception of Méliès' Cinderella , these films seem consistent with the narrative elaboration found in lantern shows.) To cite merely one instance of stage and lantern show traditions converging in cinema, the depiction of dreams and vi-



Jack and the Beanstalk. Scene 1: Jack departs after having sold the cow for a hat full of beans.

sions in Jack and the Beanstalk was done using devices common to both media. The extremely close interrelationship between theater and screen is particularly apparent in Jack and the Beanstalk .

Jack and the Beanstalk is ignored by Terry Ramsaye and Lewis Jacobs, no doubt because its subject matter and techniques are indebted to Méliès (particularly Bluebeard , 1901), suggesting that Porter was an imitator rather than an originator. This quiet dismissal does the film a disservice, for it contains all the elements that historian A. Nicholas Vardac sees in Life of an American Fireman : the pictorial development of two lines of action, spectacular devices such as the vision that introduces the second line of action, dissolves between scenes, and a change in camera position showing interior and exterior as the action moves from one space to the next.[135] The cinematic innovations cited by Vardac had become common techniques and strategies for filmmakers by 1901 and can be found much earlier in lantern shows.

Porter's first use of an increasingly elaborate and integrated narrative can be located in May and June 1902. Obviously this does not mean that Appointment by Telephone and Jack and the Beanstalk were among the first narrative films. With earlier subjects, however, individual scenes had functioned as self-contained units that could be selected and organized at the discretion of the exhibitor, who thus maintained a fundamental relationship to the narrative as


it was constructed and projected on the screen. In films like Jack and the Beanstalk , the exhibitor's role was reduced to one of secondary elaboration. Dissolves had given the production company a degree of editorial control, and the simple progression of a story from shot to shot tended to concentrate creative contributions in the hands of the producer. What is under consideration, then, is a shift in the character and function of the narrative, not its first application to either cinema or the screen. Under these new circumstances the exhibitor was increasingly reduced to the role of programmer and narrator.

The catalog description for Jack and the Beanstalk (see document no. 8) had a dual purpose: to sell the film and provide material for a potential lecturer. Although "every scene [was] posed with a view to following as closely as possible the accepted version of Jack and the Beanstalk, " an exhibitor's running commentary could clarify the story line, add characterization, and enrich the film's psychological dimension. The benefits derived from such an intervention are readily apparent after checking this description against a silent viewing of the film. It assigns a narrative significance to the last tableau that it otherwise lacks. In scene 5 Jack's conflict between obeying his mother and following the dictates of his dream is played up in the description. Likewise the fairy's revelation that the giant killed and robbed Jack's father must either be conveyed as part of a narration or assumed to be part of the audience's previous knowledge.


Jack and the Beanstalk


Jack's mother, being very poor, has dispatched him to the market to sell her only cow that they may not starve. The good fairy meets the village butcher at the bridge and informs him that Jack will pass that way with a cow which he can doubtless purchase for a hatful of beans, Jack being a very careless and foolish lad. The fairy vanishes, and Jack appears upon the scene leading the cow. The bargain is struck, and Jack runs away to show his mother what he considers a very gratifying price for their beautiful animal.


Shows Jack's return to his mother's cottage, bringing the beans in his hat, and showing them to her in great glee, his mother's disappointment and scolding, which ends in Jack being sent supperless to bed, and the mother throwing the beans in the garden in great anger.


A night scene in the garden, with beautiful moonlight and cloud effects. The good fairy appears, and waving her magic wand, commands the

(Text box continued on next page)


beanstalk to grow; and, lo and behold, from the hatful of beans that has been so ruthlessly thrown into the garden, a beanstalk of great size is seen to grow in a few moments, and to climb up the cliff above the clouds.


Showing the interior of Jack's bedroom with the moonlight streaming through the window. The good fairy appears and stands beside Jack's cot directing his dream. Jack dreams of the growing beanstalk and the award that awaits him who dares to climb it. Next he sees a vision of the Horn of Plenty, bags of the giant's gold and the talking harp, which dances before him in a weird manner. One by one these articles appear and disappear in the picture, coming as if from the dim distance, and as quickly and silently fading away. The climax of this scene is reached when the hen which lays the golden eggs walks into Jack's chamber. An egg is left on the floor, which suddenly grows to an enormous size, breaks in two, and there appears in its centre Jack's little fairy, who is afterward to make him happy for life.


Jack awakes in the early morning, and looking out from his window, finds the enormous beanstalk which has grown above the clouds. Remembering his dream of the night before, he believes he can climb it with ease; but also remembering his mother's scolding for trading the cow for the beans, he is prompted to be cautious, and concludes to consult his mother. She protests vigorously against his climbing the beanstalk, but Jack sending her into the house on a pretext, starts up the beanstalk without her knowledge. The mother returns and is frantic when she finds Jack has gone up beyond her reach. She scolds and commands him to return, but the dauntless boy only laughs and continues to climb. His playmates, who are calling for Jack on their way to school, witness Jack's start on his perilous journey, and joining hands, they dance about the beanstalk in great numbers, cheering and waving their hats at the brave boy.


Here we dissolve the view and show Jack two-thirds up the beanstalk, far above the clouds, with his mother's cottage and the hilltops a great distance below him. He is still tirelessly climbing his ladder of bean vines, and pauses as he reaches a dizzy height to wave his hat to his playmates and mother.


Jack arrives at the top of the beanstalk in what appears to be a fairyland. He is very tired and sleepy and lays down in a bed of moss to rest.

(Text box continued on next page)


He soon falls asleep, and his good fairy again appears and tells Jack the story of the giant, who, many years ago, killed and robbed his father (who was a knight residing in a castle), and drove his mother from their home. She then causes a vision of the giant's castle to appear before Jack, and commands him to go to the giant's house where great fortunes await him. Jack's enthusiasm is fired by the story of his father's wrongs, and he immediately sets out to obey the commands of the fairy.


Shows Jack's arrival at the giant's house, and being admitted to the kitchen by the giant's wife. The giant suddenly enters, and in great fear lest he kill and eat the little boy, the good wife hides Jack in a large kettle. The giant comes in and roughly demands his supper, then his harp, bags of gold and the hen which lays the golden eggs. He finally falls asleep from the playing of the harp. Jack creeps from his hiding place in the kettle and steals the hen and as many of the bags of gold as he can carry away. Just as he leaves the kitchen door the giant awakens, and, seizing his great cudgel, chases our little hero, who is now thoroughly frightened.


The chase to the beanstalk has been very close, but Jack reaches it a little ahead of the giant. He throws the bags of gold down into his mother's garden and quickly scrambles down with the precious hen hanging over his shoulder. Reaching the ground first, he hastily commands his mother to bring him the ax, and vigorously chops at the beanstalk until it falls in a heap, bringing the giant to the ground with a mighty crash, breaking his neck and instantly killing him. Here the good fairy again appears and informs Jack that he has acted like a brave knight's son and that he deserves to have his inheritance restored to him. She waves her magic wand, and, lo! Jack's costume is changed from that of a peasant boy to a young knight, and his mother is likewise transformed from a peasant woman to a lady.


A most beautiful scene, showing Jack and his mother seated in the fairy's boat, which is drawn by three beautiful swans, proceeding on their way to the castle which is to be their future home. The good fairy is seen to be flying through the air, guiding Jack and his mother on their way.

In introducing this novel tableau, giving as it were an entirely new version to the ending of the story, we believe we are adding a feature which will be most pleasing to every child who witnesses the performance. It is certainly most gratifying and comprehensive, and will at once be recognized as the beginning of the journey to the castle which, in accor-

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Jack and the Beanstalk. The cut from interior (end of scene 4) to exterior (beginning of scene 5) is not a match cut.

dance with the good fairy's promise of the reward to him who dares to climb the beanstalk, she is restoring to Jack and his mother.

Sold in complete length only. Class A. 625ft.

SOURCE : Edison Films , September 1902, pp. 116-17.

Since the film was designed so that "the audience finds itself following with ease the thread of this most wonderful of all fairy tales," the showman's spiel remained optional. If the exhibitor so wished, he could let his patrons rely on their own familiarity with the story, since it "is known to every child throughout the civilized world" and "appeals to every man and woman because they remember it as one of the most pleasant illusions of their childhood."[136] A lecture, however, enabled the exhibitor to make his own creative contribution to the cinematic story. Jack and the Beanstalk only lacks an adequate cinematic language if the film is expected to act as a self-sufficient narrative—a misreading of its institutional context.

Intimately tied to the development of a more elaborate narrative was the creation of a fictional world with spatial and temporal relations between scenes. With scenes 3, 4, and 5, Porter cuts freely from the cottage exterior to the interior of Jack's room and back to the exterior. Scenes 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 are carefully constructed with entrances and exits, glances, set cues, and narrative continuities that give spectators information from which to deduce the approximate spatial relationships between the various shots. Temporality remains more problematic, still unspecified and at moments perhaps even confused: the cut between scenes 4 and 5, which is open to different interpretations, may serve as an example. In scene 4, after Jack ends his dream, he wakes up and walks to the window in his nightgown. Scene 5 begins with Jack at the window, but fully clothed; a moment later he disappears from view and comes out the front door. The catalog confuses the issue by inaccurately describing this portion of the film,



Fire! Williamson also cut from interior to exterior.

but at least two interpretations seem possible. Porter could have intended a temporal match cut on action while simply ignoring an element of continuity (clothing); or, he may have intended something we might call a temporal abridgment, although the term suggests a precise awareness of temporal continuities that the filmmaker and his audience did not enjoy. A similar cut occurs between the last two shots of James Williamson's Fire! in which the camera "follows the rescue out the window." Here the fireman is never actually shown climbing through the window as he carries the victim from the burning bedroom to safety outside. This could be seen as a match cut that is awkwardly executed or again


as a kind of temporal abridgment (excluding roughly the time it took the fireman to climb through the opening).

The problem highlighted in these two cuts is one that faced all filmmakers of this period—temporality. Whereas the spatial relations employed in lantern shows could readily be adopted by cinema, the temporal dimension was only implied with static slides, primarily via a narration. Film, which is presented unfolding in time, demonstrates a tendency to make temporal relationships explicit. Continuity of action, embryonic at best in lantern shows, likewise became a central problem for early cinema. The mechanistic prejudice of film historians in the past has been to assume that early filmmakers were attempting to match action, just doing it badly. The problem is then seen as one of execution and manipulation of pro-filmic elements. The reverse is more likely: early filmmakers like Porter and Williamson had adequate control over pro-filmic elements, but their major problem was conceptual. Across both cuts there is strong narrative continuity that is translated into something that to our modern eyes approaches a match cut: but neither Porter nor Williamson was attempting to match action between contiguous spaces.[137]

Jack and the Beanstalk was a success even before it was released. No other American production company had the resources and the ambition to make a comparable film. Edison lawyers had to make special efforts to prevent competitors from selling duped copies. This postponed its release, for Jack and the Beanstalk was advertised as completed and ready for sale in late May.[138] According to subsequent Edison announcements,

We have purposefully delayed the delivery of our great production, "Jack and the Beanstalk," until the production could be adequately protected by law, in as much as pirates have been copying our films and have been waiting until the production could be put on sail [sic ] so that they could duplicate and offer it to the public. We have taken steps to protect our film both as a theatrical production and as a picture, and the film will be ready for delivery July 15.[139]

After motions for a temporary injunction against Lubin's duping activities were denied on June 25th, the film was eventually released without any legal protection for Edison's ownership.

General Manager William Gilmore remained determined to win courtroom recognition for Edison's method of copyright. "I do not want to give up the fight if there is a possible way of getting around it," Gilmore wrote to an Edison lawyer, "as this man Lubin is continuing to duplicate films that cost us a great many hundreds of dollars to obtain and one particular film that we have just gotten out has cost us pretty near a thousand dollars to get the negative, and he simply goes ahead and copies same, making a negative and issuing positive from same indiscriminately, so you see that he is doing our business a great deal of harm and we, apparently have no redress."[140] Lubin's tactics forced the Edison


Company to adopt a new pricing system in July 1902. Class A films, usually recently copyrighted Edison productions, were sold at 15¢ per foot, while Class B subjects, mostly older Edison films and dupes, went for 12¢. Edison announced:

To counter the effect of cheap films, duplicates, worthless subjects and short length films that are being offered in the market, we are listing our genuine Edison films in two classes. Some of our subjects cost us large sums of money to obtain while others are procured at a nominal cost. Therefore the films of inexpensive subjects, we shall list as Class B at the net price of $6.00 per 50 feet.[141]

Judge Dallas's refusal to enjoin Lubin from duping virtually ended Edison's practice of submitting paper prints for copyright purposes. As a result, few films taken in the summer and fall of 1902 have survived.

After completing Jack and the Beanstalk , Porter worked on a series of short films, including imitations of popular Biograph comedies. While Biograph was showing these pictures on its programs, it was not selling them to independent exhibitors. Edison's competing versions were made available to the trade. Biograph's A Jersey Skeeter (filmed by Arthur Marvin on July 26, 1900) was reworked as Smashing a Jersey Mosquito ; its She Meets with Wife's Approval (sometimes called The New Typewriter , taken by R. K. Bonine on July 21, 1902) was redone as Smith's Wife Inspects the New Typewriter ; and Shut Up! (Bonine on August 4, 1902) became Oh! Shut Up . Porter also continued his ongoing series of tramp films with Hooligan's Fourth of July .

While Porter and Fleming were busy in the studio, J. Blair Smith was sent to Martinique, where he covered the aftermath of the Mount Pelée eruptions of May 8 and 20, 1902, which killed more than 30,000 people.[142] The Edison Company announced: "One of our special photographers was dispatched to Martinique on the first steamer sailing after this great catastrophe, and we will have the first genuine films that will be offered to the exhibitor. Do not bother with unscrupulous film makers who will offer pictures of dilapidated, blown clown buildings or some other fakes as scenes from Martinique."[143] By mid July Edison's Orange factory was selling a dozen subjects taken by Smith on his trip and three shots of a studio model of Mount Pelée in various stages of eruption, taken by Porter. The Edison catalog suggested that the combination of Porter's faked and Smith's genuine films "will make a complete show in themselves."[144]

Throughout the summer and fall, Edison photographers were busy filming news topicals, incidents of human interest, and travel scenes. One cameraman visited the summer city of Chautauqua, New York, and filmed The Annual Circus Parade on August 9th, Chautauqua Aquatic Day on August 14th, and many quotidian scenes like Swedish Gymnastics at Chautauqua, No. 8 .[145]Fat Man's Race and Sack Race were shot at an outing of St. Cecil's Lodge on Long Island. News films included C. D. Graham Swimming the Lower Rapids , taken


on August 31st, Mrs. Taylor Going over the Horseshoe Falls in a Barrel , and Trial Run of the Fastest Boat in the World, the "Arrow, " on September 6th. In Europe, A. C. Abadie was filming French Army Maneuvers, Panoramic View of the Streets of Paris , and Santos Dumont's Airship .

The largest group of films in Edison's February 1903 catalog were taken by a freelance cinematographer, perhaps Walter Parker.[146] After filming numerous scenes in the Yukon around Dawson City during the winter and spring of 1902, he worked his way down to Seattle, Washington, where he took a group of scenics. From there he traveled to Denver, Colorado, and filmed Broncho Busting Scenes, Championship of the World at the Fall Carnival on October 9 and 10, 1902.[147]

"Telling a Story in Continuity Form"

In Paris, Alfred C. Abadie attended the opening of Méliès' Le Voyage dans la lune at the Theéâtre Robert-Houdin and then quickly purchased a copy to send back to Edison for duping.[148] Since Méliès knew Edison would dupe his films and so was unwilling to make a direct sale, Abadie's purchase had to be quite devious. According to Arthur White, "through a certain Charles Gershel, a French photographer, 23 Boulevarde des Capuchines, Paris, who had a brother-in-law in Algiers, who had a theatre, Abadie was enabled to buy prints of the latest Melies pictures, among them 'The Trip to the Moon.'"[149] By the beginning of October, Edison was selling copies of Méliès' burlesque space fantasy as a Class A subject.[150] Years later Porter recalled, "From laboratory examination of some of the popular films of the French pioneer director, George Melies—trick films like 'A Trip to the Moon'—I came to the conclusion that a picture telling a story in continuity form might draw the customers back to the theatres and set to work in this direction."[151] A key moment must have been the rocket landing on the moon. One shot ends after the rocket hits the Man-in-the-Moon in the eye, making him wince. In the succeeding shot, the rocket lands on the surface of the moon and its passengers disembark. The event is seen twice from different perspectives. While Méliès' double depiction of the landing had legitimate storytelling reasons, the overlap emphasized the continuities of action and narrative from one shot to the next. It is this kind of continuity that Porter examined, conceptualized, and applied in many of his subsequent films.

How They Do Things on the Bowery could be called an experiment in editorial principles. Its simple, comic narrative had been presented in Biograph's earlier, one-shot Uncle Si's Experiences in a Concert Hall (photographed by F. S. Armitage on April 13, 1900).


Scene Bowery. Young woman drops her handkerchief while passing a Rube. He picks it up and gives it to her. She induces him to go into a side door of a saloon.



How They Do Things on the Bowery.


Second scene, saloon. Rube and woman enter, take seats at table and order drinks. While the Rube is paying for same, woman puts knock-out drops in the Rube's glass. They drink and the Rube falls asleep. Woman takes all his valuables and leaves. Waiter wakes him up. He discovers his watch gone, fights with waiter, and is thrown out. Third scene, outside of saloon. Police patrol drawn up. They put Rube in and drive off. Length 125 feet.[152]

In the second shot of the film, the prostitute and Uncle Josh sit at a table in a saloon and have a drink: she slips him a Mickey Finn, steals his wallet, and leaves. When the waiter finds Uncle Josh asleep, he kicks the rube out and throws his suitcase after him. In the third shot, a paddy wagon comes down the street and parks outside a building. The waiter dumps Uncle Josh into the gutter and again throws the suitcase after him.

The spatial and temporal relations between shots 2 and 3 are determined by the continuity of action as the waiter throws Uncle Josh out of the saloon. These actions, coming as they do at the end of both shots, reveal the relationship between the two scenes only in the final moments of the picture. Shots 2 and 3 are finally shown to take place in contiguous spaces, inside and outside the saloon. Shot 3 repeats the same time period shown in shot 2, employing a temporal repetition from a different camera position. This temporal construction, which was implicit in Sampson-Schley Controversy and Execution of Czolgosz and was an exhibition possibility when two cameras simultaneously filmed the christening of Kaiser Wilhelm's yacht Meteor , was now made explicit by the producer's assumption of editorial responsibility and the repetition of specific actions in contiguous shots. It is this concept of continuity that Porter would elaborate in Life of an American Fireman and many subsequent Edison films.

In How They Do Things on the Bowery , Porter also used a panning camera to follow action in the final shot, as the paddy wagon backs up to the saloon. For the first time Porter applied the mobile camera associated with actuality production to fiction filmmaking. Heightening a sense of realism for spectators, this procedure to some extent departed from early cinema's presentationalism. And yet the cinema's syncretism easily incorporated and contained these changes. The use of a panning camera established a much stronger sense of off-screen space. To use an insight of André Bazin's, the edges of the picture were perceived much more as a mask and much less as a frame or proscenium arch.[153] This heightened sense of a spatial world thus coincided with the introduction of a new editorial technique that specified the spatial as well as temporal relations between shots. Such camera pans would remain a key element in Porter's cinematic repertoire over the next six years. How They Do Things on the Bowery laid out the representational system that Porter would use during his years at Edison. Yet it was with Life of an American Fireman that this was elaborated, refined, and ultimately found its first large-scale, successful realization.


A Close Look at Life of an American Fireman: 1902-1903

Life of an American Fireman is a landmark film as much because of its role in film historiography as because of its remarkable manifestation of early cinema's representational practices. Many past claims for its importance, however, are unfounded. The picture represents a consolidation of Edwin Porter's development as a filmmaker, not the qualitative leap Terry Ramsaye, Lewis Jacobs, A. Nicholas Vardac, and Porter himself have suggested by calling it "the first story film."

Although copyrighted on January 21, 1903, Life of an American Fireman was produced many weeks earlier. On November 15th, the Newark Evening News announced:



There will be a fire on Rhode Island Avenue, East Orange, this afternoon, or at least the East Orange firemen will be called out and go through the motions of extinguishing a fire and rescuing a woman from the upper story of a house for the benefit of the Edison Kinetoscope Company, which will have one of its chainlightning cameras there to reproduce the scene.[1]

The picture might also be called Life of an American Filmmaker , for this scene, and probably others, featured James White as the daring fireman (see document no. 9). Ultimately, the Edison Manufacturing Company enlisted the assistance of fire departments from four different localities.


Despite the elaborate nature of this production, shooting was almost certainly completed before the end of 1902. Ramsaye offers one explanation for a possible two-month delay between production and release: "White cast himself for the lead in this picture. When W. E. Gilmore, general manager for Edison, screened the picture he ordered retakes to eliminate White on the grounds that it was subversive of corporate policy for an executive to be an actor."[2] The retakes, if there were any, may have been filmed while White was away, or even delayed until his return, for he married Pauline Dede on November 30, 1902, and went on a month-long honeymoon."[3] Yet it seems more likely that Edison executives were hoping for a favorable resolution to their copyright case. When this failed to materialize, they went ahead with their sales. The film was finally offered for sale at the end of January (see documents nos. 10 and 11).



Lightning Cameras Took Pictures While East Orange Firemen Perform a Realistic Scene.


Hemmed in by dense clouds of suffocating smoke, that belched forth in volume, a woman, with a babe in her arms, stood in the window of a tenement house on Rhode Island avenue, near Crawford Street, East Orange yesterday afternoon. No help was near, and the woman and child seemed doomed to an awful death, when Hook and Ladder No. 1 of the East Orange Fire Department dashed up. Manager James H. White of the Edison Kinetoscope Company, of West Orange, was the "Old Sleuth" of the occasion, and, swinging himself off the vehicle before it came to a stop, scrambled up the ladder, which was quickly raised by Firemen Judd and Stasse, and carried woman and child down to safety just as the men of Hose Co. No. 5 ran a line of hose into the building. It was a stirring scene, and it will be witnessed by many thousands, for the kinetoscope company had one of its machines there, and a series of moving pictures was taken.

The fire, though not exactly incendiary, had been planned many hours before it occurred. Mr. White, whose business it is to arrange details, such as the "Battle of San Juan Hill," the sinking of an ocean steam ship, a collapsing warehouse, and similar scenes not witnessed in every-day life, had secured the partially dismantled tenement. It is owned by a man by the name of Lanzillo, and was partially destroyed by the fire a year ago, so that it was in first-class shape for the demonstration. Cans filled with

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salt hay, tar and other substances calculated to produce a dense smoke were placed in every room, and at the proper moment, when a woman used to such things and regularly employed by the company for the purpose, had taken her place in the window, the contents of the cans was fired.

Were Stationed Around Corner .

Hose Co. No. 5 and the-hook and-ladder company were stationed in Halsted street and at the tap of the bell the two companies raced for the fire. Driver Flynn, Fireman Judd, Fireman Stasse and Mr. White were abroad the truck and Firemen Ohiman, Dobbins, Markfield and Dech were with the hose wagon, and while the laddermen were attending to the rescue, the latter crew coupled on to a hydrant and ran their line of hose up to the building in record time. Chief Engineer Blair, of the East Orange Fire Department and Chief Hodgkinson of Orange were interested onlookers.

Mr. White, who dressed himself in the togs of a fireman for the occasion, has figured in several striking scenes before. When the battle of Spion Kop was fought in West Orange a year or so ago, Mr. White, who is six feet tall and of massive frame, got in the way of cannon about the time it went off. After awhile he "woke up" and the surgeons at Orange Memorial Hospital picked wadding out of his chest. It was some time before he was able to be about. He is lieutenant of Company H, N.G.N.J. of Orange, and will shortly go to Berlin, Germany, to look after Mr. Edison's interests in the kinetoscope business. He is well known throughout the Oranges and has been head of the Kinetoscope department for several years.

SOURCE : Newark Evening News , November 16, 1902, p. 4.



Is the Greatest Motion Picture Attraction ever offered to the Exhibitor! It is thrilling and dramatic, replete with exciting situations, and so crowded with action, interest and spectacular effects, that an audience witnessing it is simply SPELLBOUND. It shows:

First—The Fireman's Vision of an Imperiled Woman and Child. Second—The Turning in of the Alarm.

Third—The Firemen Leaping from their Beds, Dressing and Sliding Down the Poles.

Fourth—Interior of the Engine House, Horses Dashing from their Stalls, and Being Hitched to the Apparatus.

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Fifth—Men Descending on Poles, and Rushing to their Places on the Fire Apparatus.

Sixth—The Apparatus Leaving the Engine House.

Seventh—Off to the Fire (a Great Fire Run)

Eighth—The Arrival at the Fire, Showing an Actual Burning Building, the Firemen Coupling the Hose, Raising the Ladders, the Rescue Scene from the Interior and Exterior. Great Smoke and Flames Effects. 425 feet. Class A. $63.75

This film is sold in one length only. Send in your complete order quick, Get the film and Get the money. This is the only complete fire scene ever attempted where the men are shown leaving their beds, and A Genuine hitch taken inside the engine house. A Money Getter is what this film has been pronounced. You need it in your business because it will be the strongest card on your bill. Catalogue #168 Describes this and Over One hundred other New Subjects.

SOURCE : Edison advertisement, New York Clipper , January 31, 1903, p. 1100.


Life of an American Fireman

In giving this description to the public, we unhesitatingly claim for it the strongest motion picture attraction ever attempted in this length of film. It will be difficult for the exhibitor to conceive the amount of work involved and the number of rehearsals necessary to turn out a film of this kind. We were compelled to enlist the services of the fire departments of four different cities, New York, Newark, Orange, and East Orange, N.J., and about 300 firemen appear in the various scenes of this film.

From the first conception of this wonderful series of pictures it has been our aim to portray "Life of an American Fireman" without exaggeration, at the same time embodying the dramatic situations and spectacular effects which so greatly enhance a motion picture performance.

The record work of the modern American fire department is known throughout the universe, and the fame of the American fireman is echoed around the entire world. He is known to be the most expert, as well as the bravest, of all fire fighters. This film faithfully and accurately depicts his thrilling and dangerous life, emphasizing the perils he subjects himself to when human life is at stake. We show the world in this film the every movement of the brave firemen and their perfectly trained horses from the moment the men leap from their beds in response to an alarm until the fire is extinguished and a woman and child are rescued after many fierce

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battles with flame and smoke. Below we give a description of each of the seven scenes which make up this most wonderful of all fire scenes, "Life of an American Fireman."

Scene 1.—The Fireman's Vision of an Imperilled Woman and Child. The fire chief is seated at his office desk. He has just finished reading his evening paper and has fallen asleep. The rays of an incandescent light rest upon his features with a subdued light, yet leaving his figure strongly silhouetted against the wall of his office. The fire chief is dreaming, and the vision of his dream appears in a circular portrait upon the wall. It is a mother putting her baby to bed, and the inference is that he dreams of his own wife and child. He suddenly awakes and paces the floor in a nervous state of mind, doubtless thinking of the various people who may be in danger from fire at the moment. Here we dissolve the picture to the second scene.

Scene 2.—A Close View of a New York Fire Alarm Box. Shows lettering and every detail in the door and apparatus for turning in an alarm. A figure then steps in front of the box, hastily opens the door and pulls the hook, thus sending the electric current which alarms hundreds of firemen and brings to the scene of the fire the wonderful apparatus of a great city's fire department. Again dissolving the picture, we show the third scene.

Scene 3.—The Interior of the Sleeping Quarters in the Fire House. A long row of beds, each containing a fireman peacefully sleeping, is shown. Instantly upon the ringing of the alarm the firemen leap from their beds and, putting on their clothes in the record time of five seconds, a grand rush is made for a large circular opening in the floor, through the center of which runs a brass pole. The first fireman to reach the pole seizes it and, like a flash, disappears through the opening. He is instantly followed by the remainder of the force. This in itself makes a most stirring scene. We again dissolve the scene, to the interior of the apparatus house.

Scene 4.—Interior of the Engine House. Shows horses dashing from their stalls and being hitched to the apparatus. This is perhaps the most thrilling and in all the most wonderful of the seven scenes of the series, it being absolutely the first motion picture ever made of a genuine interior hitch. As the men come down the pole described in the above scene, and land upon the floor in lightning-like rapidity, six doors in the rear of the engine house, each heading a horse-stall, burst open simultaneously and a huge fire horse, with head erect and eager for the dash to the scene of the conflagration, rushes from each opening. Going immediately to their respective harness, they are hitched in the almost unbelievable time of five seconds and are ready for their dash to the fire. The men hastily scamper upon the trucks and horse carts and one by one the fire machines leave

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the house, drawn by eager, prancing steeds. Here we dissolve again to the fifth scene.

Scene 5.—The Apparatus Leaving the Engine House. We show a fine exterior view of engine house, the great doors swinging open, and the apparatus coming out. This is a most imposing scene. The great horses leap to their work, the men adjust their fire hats and coats, and smoke begins pouring from the engines as they pass our camera. Here we dissolve and show the sixth scene.

Scene 6.—Off to the Fire. In this scene we present the best fire run ever shown. Almost the entire fire department of the large city of Newark N.J., was placed at our disposal and we show countless pieces of apparatus, engines, hook-and-ladders, horse towers, horse carriages, etc., rushing down a broad street at top speed, the horses straining every nerve and evidently eager to make a record run. Great clouds of smoke pour from the stacks of the engines as they pass our camera, thus giving an impression of genuineness to the entire series. Dissolving again we show the seventh scene.

Scene 7.—The Arrival at the Fire. In this wonderful scene we show the entire fire department, as described above, arriving at the scene of action. An actual burning building is in the center foreground. On the right background the fire department is seen coming at great speed. Upon the arrival of the different apparatus, the engines are ordered to their places, hose is quickly run out from the carriages, ladders adjusted to the windows and streams of water poured into the burning structure. At this crucial moment comes the great climax of the series. We dissolve to the interior of the building and show a bed chamber with a woman and child enveloped in flame and suffocating smoke. The woman rushes back and forth in the room endeavoring to escape, and in her desperation throws open the window and appeals to the crowd below. She is finally overcome by the smoke and falls upon the bed. At this moment the door is smashed in by an axe in the hands of a powerful fire hero. Rushing into the room he tears the burning draperies from the window and smashing out the entire window frame, orders his comrades to run up a ladder. Immediately the ladder appears, he seizes the prostrate form of the woman and throws it over his shoulder as if it were an infant, and quickly descends to the ground. We now dissolve to the exterior of the burning building. The frantic mother having returned to consciousness, and clad only in her night clothes, is kneeling on the ground imploring the firemen to return for her child. Volunteers are called for and the same fireman who rescued the mother quickly steps out and offers to return for the babe. He is given permission to once more enter the doomed building and without hesitation rushes up the ladder, enters the window and after a breathless wait,

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in which it appears he must have been overcome by smoke, he appears with the child on his arm and returns safely to the ground. The child, being released and upon seeing its mother, rushes to her and is clasped in her arms, thus making a most realistic and touching ending of the series.

Length 425 feet. Class A. $63.75.

SOURCE : Edison Films , February 1903, pp. 2-3.

While documentation of early showings is sparse, Life of an American Fireman was treated as a headliner in New York theaters. Probably first shown at Huber's Museum by the Kinetograph Company, it was soon appearing on Vitagraph programs with The Fireman's Children; or, Chips off the Old Block (apparently an uncopyrighted Edison film made in late 1902 or early 1903).[4] When the Chicago Novelty Company, a small traveling troupe that featured motion pictures and vaudeville, showed the film in Reading, Pennsylvania, they promoted it with the claim that it featured Pennsylvania fire departments in action.[5]

As with Jack and the Beanstalk and earlier Edison films, Porter and his colleagues chose a subject that was in the mainstream of popular culture and screen practice. Bob the Fireman , a twelve-slide lantern show, made in England before the advent of cinema, was still being sold in the United States in 1902-3. It was sufficiently popular to have survived in considerable numbers, with lectures in at least two different languages.[6] Maxwell and Simpson, illustrated song singers, made hits with such titles as "'Fire, Fire and Smoke."[7] The narratives and highly conventionalized imagery of these innumerable shows were transferred to the cinema largely intact. As already discussed, the commercial potential of fire rescue films was established by November 1896 when White produced A Morning Alarm, Going to the Fire , and Fighting the Fire . Edison's September 1902 catalog listed ten fire films under one heading, while others were scattered through its 120 pages.[8]

By early 1902 several multishot films of firefighting had been produced. William Selig had made the 450-foot Life of a Fireman by the end of 1900 and considered this to be his most important negative.[9] Sigmund Lubin's multishot, 250-foot Going to the Fire and Rescue was probably made sometime in 1901:

This is a new film and it is safe to assume that it is an only one of its kind ever made. When the alarm is given the horses are seen to run from their stalls and place themselves in their accustomed places at the wagons. The harness is adjusted, the firemen jump on, and they dash out of the fire house and down the street. The picture changes and the entire apparatus is seen coming at full gallop toward the audience down a long lane. The picture again changes and the fire laddies are again seen rescuing women and children from a burning building, after which, in another change of the picture they are seen to arrive at the fire house, unharness the horses and back the apparatus into the house. This film is animated throughout and the photography is perfect. This is an extraordinary picture of an interesting subject.[10]



Four slides from the lantern show Bob the Fireman. Numbers read backwards to guide projectionist.

As Georges Sadoul has argued, James Williamsoh's four-shot, 280-foot account 'of a fire rescue, Fire! , may have provided Porter with a particularly direct source of inspiration.[11] Yet Sadoul's accusation of imitation' seems overstated. While the last two scenes of both films share many similarities, Porter's "debt" tended toward the pro-filmic elements of set construction and gesture, which were themselves highly conventionalized and hardly originated with Williamson. With Life of an American Fireman , Porter was working within a genre that was among the most advanced in cinema. The popularity of the subject, the very


frequency with which it was filmed and the constant search for novelty were important factors influencing this film's production. By 1901-2, several production companies were already selling multishot fire films. In Life of an American Fireman , Porter exploited this tentative shift toward centralized control and produced a more elaborate and effective story.

One of the most spectacular, if rigid, genres in turn-of-the-century popular culture, the fire rescue cut across many different cultural practices. In 1855 Currier and Ives published a series of prints under the rubric "Life of a Fireman." The same year John E. Millais painted "The Rescue," a narrative painting later appropriated for the lantern show Bob the Fireman as the ninth of twelve slides.[12] "Fighting the Flames," a popular outdoor spectacle first produced for the Paris Exposition of 1900, appeared at Coney Island in 1904, when it was filmed by the Biograph Company.[13] The basic story of Life of an American Fireman found subsequent articulation in A Fireman's Christmas Eve , a theatrical spectacle copyrighted a month after Porter's film and staged at Proctor's 23rd Street Theater that October (see document no. 12). Like everyone else, Porter was working within a well-established genre. It was not narrative as such, but the execution of narrative to achieve novelty, spectacle, and suspense that was of import. At his best, Porter's strength lay in his ability to rework previous formulas in innovative and novel ways. Certainly this was the case with Life of an American Fireman .


Novel Act at Proctor's

"A Fireman's Christmas Eve" Shows Thrilling Scene of the Fire Fighters' Experience.

The 'life of a New York fireman' is shown in a capital novelty introduced at Proctor's Twenty-Third Street Theatre yesterday. It may be described, for want of a better name, as a pictorial drama, with the title "A Fireman's Christmas Eye," suggesting the incidents of the principal scenes.

When the curtain rises a street is shown and the passers-by reflect the varying elements that enter into Metropolitan life. Newsboys, shopmen, and shopgirls go to and fro. Then a little colored newsboy seats himself on the doorstep and falls asleep. The snow falls and night comes on. The policeman on the beat sees the sleeping boy, and taking one of the papers from his bundle, covers him with it to keep off the cold.

Then the scene changes, showing the interior of the fireman's home. The fireman is singing while his wife plays his accompaniment on the organ. The fireman's child plays about the room. The clock strikes the time of departure and the fireman kisses his wife and child good-bye and goes to his duties. The mother undresses the little one, who now toddles

(Text box continued on next page)


off to bed, after having hung up a stocking for the goodies Santa Claus is to bring.

Now the scene again changes, showing the interior of the fire house. Both the main floor and the sleeping room of the men are shown. The fireman comes in, bearing in his arms the little black boy whom he has saved from freezing to death. The boy is revived and at once takes out his dice and begins to shoot craps. Then he 'obliges' with a song and dance, and the firemen, engaged in polishing up their machine, join in the chorus. After bidding the Captain good-night the men ascend to their sleeping room and once again the scene changes.

The fireman's wife is now lighting candles on the Christmas tree. There is a sudden blaze, a shriek, then the cry of fire.

Now the interior of the firehouse is again shown. Down the pole slide the easily awakened fire fighters, the horses come rushing pell mell into their places underneath the suspended harness, and in a twinkling everything is ready for the rush to the fire.

In the next scene the horses and engine are seen apparently on the way to the place of need. The effect is thrilling, a treadmill being used, and the bustle, hurry, and excitement of a run to the fire being admirably suggested. Finally, the burning house is revealed, a fireman rescues the child from an upper room, the net is spread, and the mother leaps to safety, and the blaze is extinguished.

The audience yesterday was stirred to such enthusiasm as might have resulted if they had been witnessing a real fire and real rescues.

The big engine is finally drawn from the stage by the horses, a difficult turn being made completely around the stage. It is a most interesting act and should prove decidedly popular.

SOURCE : New York Times , October 25, 1903, p. 22C. George Pratt, who brought this text to my attention, believes A Fireman's Christmas Eve was written after its author, Claude Hagan, saw Life of an American Fireman . The play was copyrighted February 21, 1903.

The intertextual framework in which this film was made and seen has been briefly sketched. Yet it is at least as important to understand the film within a more general social framework, notably in relation to local fire departments. In his insightful study of Pittsburgh, Francis G. Couvares has discussed the central role that volunteer fire companies played in nineteenth-century "plebeian culture."[14] These organizations drew their membership from the working and middle classes (usually skilled workers, clerks, independent artisans, and shopkeepers). Firefighting was only one aspect of their activities. More generally, they were a part of the informal network of institutions that catered to male sociability—the saloon, tobacco shops, and sporting clubs. Fire companies, moreover, routinely provided entertainment and spectacle for their neighbor-


hoods and cities. Band concerts, dances, picnics, parades, and Fourth of July celebrations were some of the occasions when the local fire department assumed prominent positions in neighborhood and even citywide activities. Representing their town or neighborhood, they often functioned as a symbol of civic pride. Fire engine races and other competitive events between departments both locally and regionally were routine. These departments thus sustained a homosocial, egalitarian environment that was the heart of plebeian culture. Given their crucial position at the intersection of social and cultural activity, and of public and private spheres, fire departments predictably played prominent roles during cinema's early years.

The move from volunteer companies to a professional fire department in the later decades of the nineteenth century tended to undermine the plebeian nature of this institution. Inter-class sociability broke down and institutional ties to the community were inevitably weakened. In the face of increasingly large-scale commercial amusement, the fire department's cultural role lost ground. Nonetheless, a figure like Kansas City fire chief George Hale, the creator of "Fighting the Flames" and then Hale's Tours, reminds us that this tradition was not simply marginalized but simultaneously transformed from within, a process in which cinema actively participated. Hence all those fire films. Motion pictures inevitably involved a loss of control over the image by those being represented. This loss, while slight in the case of local views meant principally for hometown consumption, grew with the ambition of the project. With Life of an American Fireman , local firemen still performed for the camera, demonstrating their skill and manly courage. Yet this spectacle belonged to someone else. The ideology of the picture itself had not shifted (for its filmmakers shared similar values and structures of feeling), but the image was now an alternative to (and ultimately challenged) the mode of production on which plebeian culture relied. A local fire department could not compete with this spectacle, but had to accept more modest aspirations. As a result, its efforts at spectacle become an echo, a pale imitation, of that which it had originally helped to create. Cinema incorporated and then supplanted those efforts. And yet this process was hardly obvious to people appearing in or watching these films. Perhaps it became clearer in the 1910s and 1920s when volunteer fire departments became the focus of denigrating comedies such as The New Fire Chief (Independent Moving Picture Company, 1912) or were subsumed by a larger narrative as in Foolish Wives (1921).

By 1902 the volunteer fire department was excluded from major cities where professional forces operated. Yet even in these metropolitan areas, the fire department remained a symbol of societal cohesion. The urban firefighter was a working-class hero par excellence, an individual who risked his life to save others. He could be admired by fellow members of the working class while presenting a reassuring image to the bourgeoisie as the savior not only of lives but of property. Bridging class divisions at a time when the social framework


was under great stress, Life of an American Fireman and other films of this genre were popular in part because they successfully transcended class and urban/rural divisions, echoing a plebeian sensibility. In heroicizing the American fireman as "the most expert, as well as the bravest, of all fire fighters,"[15] the filmmakers also appealed to American patriotism. Thus the use of four fire departments becomes important, not simply because two were volunteer (Orange, East Orange) and two professional (New York, Newark), but because localism was superseded.

Life of an American Fireman , moreover, allowed for a wide variety of interpretations through the exhibitor's lecture. The Clipper description suggests a simple story in which a fireman thinks of an imperiled woman and child, whom he and his fellow firemen subsequently rescue. The catalog, however, offers a more elaborate account, in which a fire chief dreams of his wife and child, who are in danger. Nor was this perceived simply as coincidence, for the fire chief was a favorite target of deranged "firebugs" (see document no. 13). A fire chief had every reason to envision his family in danger, and every respectable family man could identify with his situation. Depending on the emphasis of his spiel, the showman could privilege either the working-class hero or the chief, a hero of America's new middle class. In either case, Life of an American Fireman , like many of Porter's later films, foregrounded the family and the need for a cohesive society.



Make Three Attempts to Burn His House in Jersey City.

Two attempts were made last night to burn a three-story frame house at 54 Ferry Street, Jersey City, owned by John Conway, Chief of the Fire Department.

The house is occupied by three families. One of the tenants at 6 o'clock found some oil-soaked waste burning in the cellar. Kerosene had been poured on all the stairs from the cellar to the top of the house. The fire was extinguished but an hour later more paper was found burning in another part of the cellar. This also was extinguished.

An attempt was made to fire the same house in March last.

SOURCE : New York Times , September 6, 1901, p. 12.

Representational Practices in Life of an American Fireman

A full appreciation of Life of an American Fireman requires a shot-by-shot analysis. In shot 1, a dream balloon shows the fire chief thinking of a mother



Frames from Life of an American Fireman—two per shot—except for shot 5
 (one frame), shot 6 (3 frames), and shot 7, which is not represented.

and child (a composition with religious overtones), possibly his family. The dream balloon fades away and the fire chief exits. This shot is spatially and temporally independent from the rest of the film. Shot 2 is a close view of a hand pulling down the arm of the fire alarm. There is a temporal overlap at the end of shot 2/beginning of shot 3 as the firemen, at first asleep, jump out of bed in response to the alarm. The firemen, on the second floor of the firehouse, put on their clothes and jump down the fire pole until only one is left. Shot 4, the interior of the engine house with its vaunted interior hitch, was actually filmed in an elaborate outdoor set: the floor is mostly grass. The scene begins as the horses are quickly harnessed to the engines. After a few moments, the firemen come down the fire pole. Here, a more substantial temporal overlap with a redundancy of action is employed between shots 3 and 4. The end of shot 4/ beginning of shot 5 employs yet another overlap. Shot 4 ends with the fire engine racing off forward right. Shot 5 begins with the firehouse doors opening and a fire engine exiting off right. In shots 3, 4, and 5, Porter shows everything


of dramatic interest occurring within the frame. This results in a redundancy of dynamic action—the slide down the pole, the start to the fire—effectively heightening the impact of the narrative. At the same time, the repeated actions clearly establish spatial, temporal, and narrative relationships between shots. It is, as Porter realized, a kind of continuity, but one radically different from the continuity associated with classical cinema.

Shot 6, "Off to the Fire," is a conventional rendering of the fire run and relies on the quantity of fire engines to impress its audience. Narrative consistency is sacrificed to spectacle. In shot 7 a fire engine races by a park. As the fire engine approaches, a pan follows the action, focusing on James White, who jumps off the vehicle in front of a burning building. Again, the moving camera suggests the immediacy of a news film. Convention and narrative continuity rather than continuity of action establish the relationship between shots 7 and 8. Shot 8 shows a bedroom interior as the woman gets out of bed, staggers to the window, and is overcome by smoke. The fireman breaks in the door, enters, and then breaks out the window, where a ladder appears. After carrying out the woman, he immediately returns for the child hidden in the bed covers. The fireman leaves with the child, but quickly returns again with a hose and douses the flame.

Shot 9, using virtually the same camera position as the concluding section of shot 7, shows the same rescue from the outside. The woman leans out the window (in shot 8 she does not lean out the window; however, the gesture is identical) then disappears back inside; the fireman brings her down the ladder; she tells him of her threatened child; he races back up the ladder and returns with the child. As the mother and child embrace in a tableau-type ending, the fireman again ascends with the hose. Shots 8 and 9 show the same rescue from two different perspectives. The blocking is carefully laid out, and continuity of action is more than acceptable. The activities in shot 8 have their counterparts in shot 9 as people move back and forth from inside to outside: the succession of complementary actions tie the two shots together—something Porter did only twice in How They Do Things on the Bowery . While on one level these two shots create a temporal repetition, on another level they each have their own distinct and complementary temporalities, which together form a whole. When the interior is shown, everything happening inside unfolds in "real" time while everything occurring outside is extremely condensed. The reverse is true when showing the rescue from the exterior. In keeping with theatrical conventions, whenever actions take place off-screen, time is elided.

This complementary relationship between shots is a kind of proto-parallel editing involving manipulation of the mise-en-scène instead of manipulation of the film material through decoupage, and manipulation of time over space. While Life of an American Fireman uses familiar spatial constructions, its temporal construction differs radically from matching action and parallel cutting,


which audiences would see only six years later in such Griffith films as The Lonely Villa (1909). The Lonely Villa utilizes a representational system dominated by the linear flow of time, an accomplishment made possible by fragmentation of the mise-en-scène and a rapid shift in shots as the narrative moves back and forth between locations. Life of an American Fireman remained indebted to the magic lantern show, with its well-developed spatial constructions and an underdeveloped temporality. By showing everything within the frame, Porter was, in effect, making moving magic lantern slides with theatrical pro-filmic elements. Shots are self-contained units tied to each other by overlapping action. Ironically, Life of an American Fireman has frequently been praised for its fluidity and the way it condenses time through editorial strategies. The reverse is often true: the action is retarded, repeated.

Life of an American Fireman contains a series of fascinating contradictions. The frontal organization of pro-filmic elements occurring in most scenes is briefly broken in shot 7 by the sweeping camera, which momentarily reveals a "continuous" off-screen spatial world that exists outside the static rectangle of the camera frame. The pervasive presentationalism, indebted to traditional stage practices, is again contradicted by the "omniscient" camera, which views the same actions from two (and if two, why not three, four, or five?) different perspectives. Shots are constructed as discrete, independent units even as they are made subservient to an overall narrative. Having developed strategies that superseded the exhibitor's role as editor, Porter continued to draw upon his own background as an exhibitor by combining scenes of four different fire departments (just as an exhibitor might show a Passion Play using films from four different producers). This syncretic film is caught somewhere between the presentation of simulated reality and a fictional story. This story, which exists to the extent that the fire chief and his vision of wife and child resonate throughout subsequent scenes, is periodically sacrificed to spectacle. The tentative story, therefore, could either be ignored or developed by the showman as he was inclined. As if to compensate exhibitors for their lack of editorial opportunities, the film offered them great latitude in presenting the film. Contradictions such as these inspired Noel Burch's description of Porter as a two-faced Janus who looks backward and forward in time.

The narrative and temporal organization that Porter made explicit in How They Do Things on the Bowery and Life of an American Fireman can be found in many of his later films, including Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903), The Great Train Robbery (1903), The Ex-Convict (1904), The Watermelon Patch (1905), The "Teddy" Bears (1907), and Rescued from An Eagle's Nest (1908). Other filmmakers, notably those working at Biograph, followed Méiès' and Porter's lead in films like Next! (photographed November 4, 1903), A Discordant Note (June 26, 1903), The Burglar ( August 21, 1903), Wanted: A Dog (March 1905) and The Firebug (July 1905). English films like G. A. Smith's Mary Jane's Mishaps


(1903) and Cecil Hepworth's Rescued by Rover (1905) have similar temporal constructions, while Méliès continued to use overlapping action in Le Voyage à travers l'impossible (1904) and Le Mariage de Victorine (1907). Porter and his contemporaries were working within a cultural framework that made this mode of narrative organization intelligible, even "natural," to their audiences.

The narrative procedures in Life of an American Fireman involve structures occurring in different cultural forms at different times. Sergei Eisenstein used brief overlaps in October (1927), but these broke the "seamless" linear continuity of shots that had become part of classical narrative cinema. The procedure may be similar to Porter's, but its function was completely different, for Porter's strategy was to create a greater degree of continuity than had theretofore existed.

The parallels between Life of an American Fireman and medieval French poetrychanson de gesteare extremely provocative. Erich Auerbach, in examining Chanson de Roland and Chanson d'Alexis , notes that "in both we have the same repeated returning to fresh starts, the same spasmodic progression and retrogression, the same individual occurrences and their constituent parts."[16] The description of Roland's death (laisses 174-176) is one example of this narrative technique:

2355  Roland feels that death is overcoming him,
        It descends from his head to his heart.
        He ran beneath a pine tree.
        He lay down prone on the green grass.
        He places his sword and his oliphant beneath him.
2360  He turned his head toward the pagan army:
        He did this because he earnestly desires
        That Charles and all his men say
        That the noble count died as a conqueror.
        He beats his breast in rapid succession over and over again.
2365  He proffered his gauntlet to God for his sins.

        Roland feels that his time is up,
        He is on a steep hill, his face turned toward Spain.
        "Mea culpa, Almighty God,
2370  For my sins, great and small,
        Which I committed from the time I was born
        To this day when I am overtaken here!"
        He offered his right gauntlet to God,
        Angels from heaven descend toward him.

2375  Count Roland lay beneath a pine tree,


        He has turned his face toward Spain.
        He began to remember many things:
        The many lands he conquered as a brave knight,
        Fair France, the men from whom he is descended,
2380  Charlemagne, his lord, who raised him.
        He cannot help weeping and sighing.
        But he does not wish to forget prayers for his own soul,
        He says his confession in a loud voice and prays for God's mercy:
        "True Father, who never lied,
2385  Who resurrected Saint Lazarus from the dead
        And saved Daniel from the lions,
        Protect my soul from all perils
        Due to the sins I committed during my life!"
        He proffered his right gauntlet to God,
2390  Saint Gabriel took it from his hand.
        He laid his head down over his arm,
        He met his end, his hands joined together.
        God sent His angel Cherubin
        And Saint Michael of the Peril,
2395  Saint Gabriel came with them.
        They bear the Count's soul to Paradise.[17]

The laisse is the primary unit of production for chansons de geste ; its equivalent is the shot in turn-of-the-century cinema. Just as Porter showed the same rescue from two different perspectives, so the author of Chanson de Roland used laisses similares to describe the manner in which Roland dies. Certain actions are reiterated: Roland feeling that his time is up (lines 2355 and 2366), beating his breast (2364 and 2369) and offering his gauntlet to God (2365 and 2373). Other actions or speech in laisse 174 are omitted in 175 and new ones added. Both Porter and the chanson's author made use of this technique at climactic moments in their narratives.

Overlapping action, which Porter used throughout Life Of an American Fireman , is frequently encountered in chanson de geste as well, for instance at the end of laisse 164 and beginning of 165:

He [Count Roland] suffered such pain that he could no longer Stand,
Willy-nilly, he falls to the ground
The Archbishop said: "You are to be pitied, worthy knight"

When the Archbishop saw Roland faint,
He suffered greater anguish than ever before.[18]

These congruencies are not simply representational coincidence, but are intimately related to parallel modes of production. Jean Rychner has explored the complex relationship that existed between the performers who sang the epic


poems and the surviving chansons . He concludes that "all the good singers are also improvisers; they created their songs themselves, and, when they did not create them properly speaking, they knew how to combine the songs of others, how to condense several poems into one, how to modify, complete and amplify.[19] The chanson de geste , like the early film program, was an open work, subject to the jongleur's manipulation—with the manipulation of laisses the primary level on which this was accomplished. New laisses could be added or whole sections could be omitted. Elaboration of narrative was not achieved within a simple linear time line but through repetition. Furthermore, with such a system of production, overlapping narrative was an effective way to relate a new or different laisse to the existing narrative.

There are other parallels. Audiences for Chanson de Roland and Life of an American Fireman already knew the story they were seeing and/or hearing. Much of their enjoyment came from relating the individual presentations to the known narrative: appreciation was based on the audiences' ability to judge skill of execution and effectiveness of representation in comparison to previous presentations. Correspondingly, the film producer or jongleur relied on iconographic images, gestures, and phraseology in the creation of scenes and laisses .[20] Images and forms of expression were both highly conventionalized from the perspective of the producer as well as of the audience.

Chanson de Roland and Life of an American Fireman occupy similar places in the respective developments of European literature and the American screen to the extent that both forms were moving toward a new mode of production in which a work had closure and there was a single "author." This was achieved in literature, of course, by a movement toward the written text. Both works are exceptions within their respective forms because of "the unity of subject and internal cohesion,"[21] which placed them at the forefront of these developments. This exploration of convergences, however, is not an attempt to elevate Life of an American Fireman to the status of Chanson de Roland as a work of cultural significance. Chanson de geste developed over a period of centuries and was a major form of cultural expression. The cinema in 1903 was still only one of many forms of popular culture, and the circumstances that conditioned this kind of narrative structuring were short-lived. The Edison Manufacturing Company bore little resemblance to a medieval court: cinema, driven by fierce competition, continued its rapid transformation, quickly developing strategies more consistent with narrative techniques found in other contemporary media, particularly the use of a linear time line. The mode of representation used by Griffith only ten or fifteen years later would be compared to that of Charles Dickens.[22] Yet Life of an American Fireman is emblematic of a crucial moment in film history. It signaled a further shift in the editorial function from exhibitor to production company and a tendency toward producing larger units (i.e., longer and therefore more complex films). Although this can be attributed in some


degree to industrial efficiency, maximizing profit, and the structure of American industry, such pressures were increased exponentially by a new level of narrative organization, often called "the story film." Because story films could be more effectively produced by an organization having greater creative control, the role of the filmmaker was fundamentally constituted as we conceive of it today.

Life of an American Fireman in Film History

Film history is an emerging discipline. It began early, in manuals like Cecil Hepworth's Animated Photographs (1897) and in courtrooms where legal proceedings valorized priority and the myth of the first time. By the 1910s, with the films of the pre-nickelodeon era unavailable and unknown to most people working in the industry, the film pioneers laid claim to various "firsts." Perhaps one of the most enduring has been the assertion that Life of an American Fireman was "the first story film." Porter had this claim presented in the May 1913 issue of Theatre Magazine :

Mr. Porter was the first man to tell a complete story with moving pictures. That was in 1900 when he made the film of Life of an American Fireman for the Edison people. This original story-telling moving-picture reel began with the fireman's home, where he was seen kissing his wife and baby good-bye. Then successively the pictures showed his arrival at the firehouse, sitting at the chief's desk later at night, dozing off and having a vision of his wife and child, the child saying her prayers at the bedside; the fireman awakens and there is a shift to the bedroom, showing the mother putting the child to bed; shift, lamp upset; shift fire alarm box pulled at the street corner; shift inside the firehouse, showing the firemen sliding down the poles and hitching the horses; shift to the bedroom mother unconscious from the smoke; shift fire engines tearing through the street; shift arrival at the chief's own home; putting ladder up with rescue of wife and then the child. This was the first complete story ever told in moving pictures just thirteen years ago.[23]

This article was not simply a case of hazy memory but a calculated attempt to elevate Porter's stature to a level consistent with his position at Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Film Company, where he was head of production. It rewrote history to make Porter's role intelligible—and primary. The revision had two vectors. First, it pushed the film's production date back to 1900, to the time of his arrival at Edison and the first American screenings of Méliès' Cinderella . Second, it described a group of cinematic techniques that could be found only in the most advanced films of 1908-9. While arguing for his place as "a father of the story film," Porter equated it with the highly developed technique of parallel editing and linear continuity that he had never employed at Edison. This fantastic description reveals an embarrassing case of Griffith envy, obscuring the true significance of the film and renouncing the mode of representation on which Porter's Edison films were based.


Terry Ramsaye, consistent with his sympathetic portrayal of Thomas Edison, valorized Porter's claim in A Million and One Nights (1926):

There have been tiny, trivial efforts to use the screen to tell a-story, exemplified by Cecil Hepworth's Rescued by Rover , the adventures of a little girl and a dog, photographed in London, and The Burglar on the Roof made by Blackton and Smith of Vitagraph. They were mere episodes.

Now in the Edison studios, where the art of the film was born, and also where it was best bulwarked against the distractions of the fight for existence, came the emergence of the narrative idea.

James H. White was in charge of Edison's "Kinetograph Department" and Edwin S. Porter, becoming a cameraman, was the chief fabricator of picture material. Between them evolved a five hundred foot subject entitled The Life of an American Fireman .[24]

That Rescued by Rover (1905) is said to precede Life of an American Fireman s only one of many failings in this brief account.

Lewis Jacobs' work on this subject is impressive when placed against Ramsaye's claims. Jacobs unearthed primary source material for The Rise of the American Film (1939), reprinting the catalog description and photographs taken for copyright purposes. The stills, however, were rearranged to conform to modern notions of linear continuity—and to Porter's assertions in this area. Jacobs never tried to resolve the discrepancy between the catalog description and the more elaborate intercutting suggested by his rearrangement of stills. Instead, he praised Porter's contributions in a manner that finally extended Ramsaye's assertions:

If Georges Méliès was the first to "push cinema towards a theatrical way," as he claimed, then Edwin Porter was the first to push cinema towards the cinematic way. Generally acknowledged today as the father of the story film, he made more than fictional contributions to movie tradition. It was Porter who discovered that the art of motion pictures depends on the continuity of shots, not on the shots alone. Not content with Méliès' artificially arranged scenes, Porter distinguished the movies from other theatrical forms and gave them the invention of editing. Almost all motion picture developments since Porter's discovery spring from the principle of editing, which is the basis of motion picture artistry.

By 1902 Porter had a long list of films to his credit. But neither he nor other American producers had yet learned to tell a story. They were still busy with elementary one-shot news events . . ., with humorous bits . . ., with vaudeville skits . . ., scenic views . . . and local topics . . . . None of these productions stood out from the general. Literal and unimaginative, they are significant today mainly as social documents.

. . . Porter therefore concocted a scheme that was as startling as it was different: a mother and child were to be caught in a burning building and rescued at the last moment by the fire department.

Tame though such a plot sounds to us today, it was then revolutionary.[25]


Georges Sadoul, in his Histoire générale du cinema (1948), agrees with Jacobs' "logical" rearrangement of copyright photographs but points out that this gave a total of "eleven shots in the film rather than eight."[26] By breaking the last scene down into five shots, Sadoul presents a clear case of intercutting back and forth between two scenes.

Although Sadoul disagrees with Jacobs over who was "the inventor of editing," both had the same conception of early cinema, one similar to that offered in Theatre Magazine . The Jacobs/Sadoul description of the film was modified in detail rather than principle by the first copy of the film to be recovered, the one at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The intercutting was even more elaborate than Jacobs or Sadoul had imagined. As Jean Mitry notes in his Histoire du cinéma (1967), "seven scenes decompose into fifteen." From this he concludes:

One may say with more objectivity that if the English have discovered continuity and montage, Porter was the first to understand that the act of cinema depended on this continuity. In effect, the action is followed across several successive shots. This is a contribution which can't be overestimated. With Porter the continuity becomes genetically linked to the drama, at least to the dramatic emotion.[27]

Much film history was written using the Jacobs/Sadoul analysis buttressed by the MoMA print.

A whole generation of historians had become publicly committed to this print when the paper print project at the Library of Congress uncovered a different version of the film. Both versions are essentially identical except for the last scene—scene 7. Scene 7 in the MoMA print makes use of parallel editing and matching action, while the Library of Congress (DLC) version uses a temporal repetition similar to the one in How They Do Things on the Bowery . It is obvious that someone, at some point, intercut the last two shots of the DLC version, following the action as it moves back and forth between interior and exterior, and matching action each time the fireman goes through the window.[28]

Kenneth Macgowan in Behind the Screen (1965) and Gerald Mast in A Short History of the Movies (1976) laid out both versions of the film, favoring the MoMA print but refusing to make any definitive judgments:

It is obvious from the copyright print that the director took just exactly the scenes he needed for intercutting. If he hadn't intended to intercut elaborately, why would he have shot the firemen returning through the window and rescuing the child as well as other firemen entering to put out the fire with the hose? And yet a doubt remains. In the rest of his short films, Porter never used such intricate intercutting again.[29]

There are two conflicting versions of this rescue scene: one of them using the one-shot, cutless method of Méliès, the other using a more complicated editing plan. The rescue scene tells its story from two set-ups: from inside the house (point of view of the wife and child awaiting rescue) and from outside it (point of view of the firemen


making the rescue). In one of the extant versions of the film, the audience sees the whole rescue first from inside the house and then repeated again from outside the house. This method, in the stock tradition of sticking with the focal character throughout, makes little narrative sense. The fireman could not possibly go through the entire rescue operation twice; such games with time would await Alain Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad .[30]

Jacques Deslandes and Jacques Richard dismiss the MoMA version in Histoire comparée du Cinéma (1968), but they do not offer the kind of exhaustive reasoning that might convince others.[31] Some historians, such as William Everson in his American Silent Film (1978), simply avoid the sticky issue by not referring to the film. It is only in the last few years that careful examination and methodology have established the authenticity of the paper print version at the Library of Congress. In 1978 the Museum of Modern Art itself showed the paper print version at the FIAF conference on early cinema in Brighton, England.

The adulteration of Life of an American Fireman was not an isolated case. The copy of Méliès' A Trip to the Moon at the British Film Institute, for example, lacks the overlapping action in which the rocket lands on the moon, conforming instead to more modern notions of linear continuity. In the process, a self-validating system was created. The "modernized" versions of these films supported historians who projected classical cinematic strategies backwards to the origins of a "natural cinematic language" and vice versa. Today it is clear that the DLC paper print version is internally consistent, is consistent with Porter's own development as a filmmaker, and with the development of international cinema during the 1901-7 period. If any doubt remained, the discovery of a print of Life of an American Fireman in northern Maine by the American Film Institute confirmed the authenticity of the paper print version.[32]

Life of an American Fireman was based on a familiar story; its narrative elements occurred and reoccurred across many forms of popular culture. Porter was hardly the father of the story film. The film deserves our attention for its rich accumulation of cinematic techniques. Working within a genre, Porter presents the familiar material in a new and interesting way. The film, however, does not present the world with "the principles of modern film editing"—quite the reverse. It has a special place in film history: it is a coherent, elaborate film that uses cinematic strategies outside the repertoire of later classical cinema. The film shows us that cinema did not develop in a simple, linear direction. It presents a mode of representation that was unstable, transitory, a direction in narrative cinema that was briefly explored, gradually discarded, and then quickly forgotten.

Porter's and White's development as filmmakers through Life of an American Fireman reveals with particular clarity a series of changes taking place within screen practice. The introduction of moving pictures made possible and even encouraged shifts and transformations within the interrelated modes of exhibi-


tion and image production as editorial control and narrative responsibility were increasingly centralized in the production company. These changes in film production and exhibition both helped to produce and were generated by a changing mode of representation with specific strategies for depicting spatial and temporal relations between shots. Obviously these shifts and the subsequent transformation that made them permanent did not happen on a national or international level overnight. As the next chapters make clear, even within the Edison Company itself, A. C. Abadie and then R. K. Bonine continued to shoot short travel scenes that could be bought by lecturers and incorporated into their shows.[33]

The centralization of editorial procedures was gradual and centered on acted story films where the production company needed maximum control over filmic and pro-filmic elements. There was, of course, a real economic incentive for the rationalization of production and exhibition. Not only was it more efficient to manufacture longer, standardized prints than to handle brief scenes that had to be selectively purchased, but most exhibitors were more interested in profits than in retaining or developing their skill as storytellers. Many showmen preferred the production companies to make editorial decisions for them. Yet in certain forms like the travelogue, which did not require continuity of space, time, and action, editorial control remained in the hands of exhibitors for many years to come. Traveling lecturers like Burton Holmes and Dwight Elmendorf continued to create their own shows and remained popular into the 1910s, dominating what would now be called the documentary market. Their travelogues/documentaries lacked precisely those characteristics that made Jack and the Beanstalk and Life of an American Fireman important moments in Porter's development as a filmmaker and in the history of the American screen.


Story Films Become the Dominant Product: 1903-1904

The shift to story films at the Edison Manufacturing Company was a gradual, but uneven, process that began in 1902 and proceeded in fits and starts through late 1904. By the conclusion of that year, this type of picture had clearly become the dominant product, both for Edison and throughout the motion picture industry. It was a development occurring on different levels. By the second half of 1903, Edison's "duping" of foreign pictures clearly privileged story films. As might be expected, this corresponded to the embracing of fictional headline attractions by most vaudeville exhibition services. Not until the later part of 1904, however, did Edison personnel focus the bulk of their own production efforts in this area. Between January 1903 and October 1904 output of staged/ acted films remained irregular, as the Edison Company sought to avoid undue negative costs and was thwarted by legal and personnel problems. Ambitious, commercially successful story films were made, yet they were usually followed by much more modest productions, if not an outright hiatus in filmmaking.


The completion of Life of an American Fireman coincided with important changes within Edison's Kinetograph Department. On February 5, 1903, James White left for Europe to become Edison's new European sales manager.[1] White's new position was important for Edison's phonograph and film businesses, and William Gilmore was not sure whether he could handle the responsibility. As he wrote Thomas Edison from Europe shortly after White had taken the job:


It would seem to me that the proper way to take hold of things here is to have one good man to look after the business in the different countries as a whole the same as I do in America but the point is who is the man. I am not prepared to say that White is big enough to swing it. I hardly think he has the experience necessary. Then again I find that he lacks nerve, which to my mind is very essential. However, as we have given him the opportunity I suppose we must let him go for the present.[2]

Gilmore also felt that White required close supervision to curtail his more impulsive schemes.[3] White's charm and entrepreneurial spirit were better suited to a producer or salesman than a ledger-conscious manager.

White's position as head of the Kinetograph Department was filled by William H. Markgraf, another of Gilmore's brothers-in-law, who had been working elsewhere in the Edison Manufacturing Company. Although he had obtained his job through nepotism, the new department manager did not receive a percentage of film sales as had James White. Nevertheless, his $30 weekly salary was raised on January 1st to $40—twice Porter's. Markgraf acted as a middle-level executive—a member of the new middle class—whereas White had functioned as a quasi-independent entrepreneur under the umbrella of Edison's corporation. Markgraf's hiring introduced a differentiation in managerial function. The department head was no longer a film producer, salesman, cameraman, and film actor. He oversaw production activities, but did not participate directly in them. Yet this was not management as Frederick Taylor envisioned it. Markgraf lacked the expertise to challenge or even guide his staff's working methods. This left Porter more firmly in control of production, since he alone had the requisite knowledge and experience.

As the Kinetograph Department was preparing Life of an American Fireman for release, Edison suffered two judicial defeats that affected company sales of films and projecting kinetoscopes. Although both setbacks were eventually reversed on appeal, at the time they were highly disruptive, bringing into question the company's future within the industry. The first involved Thomas Armat, who, through the Animated Photo Projecting Company and its successor, the Armat Moving-Picture Company, had sued the American Mutoscope Company for infringement of his projection patents. He brought suit on the last day of 1898 and, after considerable delay, won a circuit court decision favoring his patent in October 1902.[4] Reluctant to have either the patent's scope or his ownership tested in a higher court, Armat came to an agreement with Biograph. Biograph agreed to recognize the patent if he "would not insist upon the payment of the license fees . . . until the Armat Company had secured a permanent injunction against the Edison Company."[5]

In November Armat sued the Edison Company. A preliminary injunction was filed on January 19th, prohibiting the company from selling projectors. Edison lawyers appealed for a stay, and the injunction was vacated a week later. The reprieve occurred primarily because Armat's control of the patent was in doubt


owing to his earlier conflicts with Jenkins.[6] Nonetheless, the Edison Company was threatened with substantial damages and a realignment of the American motion picture industry around Armat. Armat, still anxious to avoid further testing of his patents, renewed his suggestion for a combination involving Edison, Biograph, and the Armat Moving Picture Company. In a letter to Gilmore, he pressed his case, pointing out that "the Armat Moving Picture Company has never sold a machine , therefore any monopoly that may be built up under its patents is absolutely intact ."[7] He attempted to play on the Edison Company's concurrent difficulties with Lubin by suggesting that "in fighting us you are in effect fighting for Lubin and the others who have contributed nothing to this art, and if you succeed in defeating us, you will throw this country open to the kind of competition that obtains in Europe, where the biggest fakir, such as Lubin, makes the money at the expense of legitimate business." Edison's lawyers, unmoved by Armat's anti-Semitic appeal, decided to await the outcome of the suit. Armat, however, chose not to pursue it. In June 1903 the Edison Company altered its projecting kinetoscope, replacing its one-third shutter with a half-shutter. The new shutter allowed less light to be projected through the film and onto the screen, but seemed to protect the company from any future outcome of the suit, since Armat's patent had been poorly worded.[8] Notwithstanding these commercial disruptions and slight curtailment in the projector's quality, sales of projecting kinetoscopes for the 1903 business year increased less than 10 percent over the preceding year—to $36,651 with profits of $15,637.

The second decision involved the Lubin copyright case and directly affected Edison film production. On January 22d, one day after Life of an American Fireman had been copyrighted, Judge George Mifflin Dallas ruled that Edison's method of copyrighting motion pictures was unacceptable. Since 1897 Thomas Edison (via his secretary) had been sending paper prints of his company's films to the Library of Congress, where each was duly copyrighted as a single photograph. Edison lawyers argued that this procedure was adequate: "Each view is not sold by itself, but are sold in numbers together, being printed on one strip of film for the foregoing purpose (of showing successive views of the same object that give the appearance of actual motion) and constituting one photograph."[9] Lubin denied that "such photographic representations constitute one photograph and that the same can be copyrighted as one photograph or protected by a single copyright and avers that such photographic films are the result of joining together distinct and independent photographic exposures each requiring a separate copyright for securing an exclusive right to such original intellectual conception as it may contain."[10] Judge Dallas agreed with Lubin, ruling that:

It is requisite that every photograph, no matter how or for what purpose it may be cojoined with others, shall be separately registered, and that the prescribed notice of copyright shall be inscribed upon each of them. It may be true, as has been argued, that this construction of the section renders it unavailable for the protection of such a series


of photographs as this; but if, for this reason, the law is defective, it should be altered by Congress, not strained by the courts.[11]

Edison appealed.

Edison executives, while waiting for a review, drastically curtailed their company's output of original subjects, anticipating that these would be copied by Lubin and other "infringers." Little or nothing was produced at the Edison studio over the next three months, although a few new films taken by Abadie in Europe were offered for sale. A small fire ravaged the Kinteograph Department's darkroom on February 9th, injuring William Jamison and further disrupting production. The company's February and particularly its May catalogs featured dupes of foreign productions: Méliès' Joan of Arc, Robinson Crusoe , and Gulliver's Travels ; Urban Trading Company news films of the Durbar celebrations in Delhi, India; Pathé's Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves as well as Williamson and G. A. Smith pictures.[12]

Deeply concerned with the many legal problems that threatened the future of his enterprises, Edison had his principal patents lawyer, Frank Dyer, move into his laboratory on April 1, 1903.[13] Soon after, Edison's legal fortunes in the motion picture field were revived. On April 21st, in a landmark decision, Judge Dallas's ruling was reversed by the U.S. court of appeals. Judge Joseph Buffington, writing the opinion, asserted that:

The instantaneous and continuous operation of the camera is such that the difference between successive pictures is not distinguishable by the eye and is so slight that the casual observer will take a very considerable number of successive pictures of the series, and say they are identical . . . To require each of numerous undistinguishable pictures to be individually copyrighted, as suggested by the court, would in effect be to require copyright of many pictures to protect a single one.

When Congress in recognition of the photographic art saw fit in 1865 to amend the Act of 1831 (13 Stat 540), and extend copyright protection to a photograph or negative, it is not to be presumed it thought such art could not progress and that no protection was to be afforded such progress. It must have recognized there would be change and advance in making photographs just as there have been in making books, printing chromos and other subjects of copyright protection."[14]

A year after bringing his copyright suit against Lubin, Edison had finally won. Although films had been copyrighted in Edison's name for six years, the threat of legal action had always been enough to intimidate potential dupers less determined than Lubin.[15] Judge Buffington's decision was the first actually to recognize the validity of Edison's method of copyright. If the court had done otherwise, it would have discouraged American motion picture production still further. Howard Hayes, Edison's lawyer for the case, greeted the decision with enthusiasm. "It is a strong one and will be followed I think in other courts," he


wrote Gilmore. "Now that copyrighting the films has become of importance I want to arrange a plan by which the copyrighting can be done correctly and evidence of it kept so that it will be available in any suit on a moments notice."[16] As a result of Hayes' directive, copyright files were subsequently kept at West Orange; today they provide the historian with essential information about most Edison productions.[17]

The series of legal battles and injunctions between 1901 and April 1903 left the American industry in shambles. Uncertainties had discouraged investment in plant and negatives. Although Biograph had won its court case against Edison in March 1902, it remained a weakened competitor during the following year. The subjects and representational practices for its large-format service were increasingly antiquated. A typical program relied on a miscellaneous collection of short actualities with a few trick films and comedies thrown in for relief.[18] In contrast, Vitagraph had recognized the value of "headline attractions all of which are long subjects lasting from 10 to 20 minutes each."[19] This enabled Vitagraph to take over the Keith circuit from Biograph during the first week of April. Afterwards one trade journal observed that the new Vitagraph program was "the best series of films seen here in many weeks."[20] George Spoor's Chicago-based exhibition service made a similar shift toward story films, a key element in the reviving popularity of vaudeville film programs.

Edison, Vitagraph, Lubin, Spoor, and Selig—all relied heavily on European imports. Like Edison, many took local, inexpensive films that could not be provided by European producers. To a remarkable degree, Edison's competition with its rivals revolved around the rapidity with which newly released European story films could be brought to the United States, duped, and sold. The original prints that Edison acquired for these purposes were then purchased by Waters' Kinetograph Company, while dupes were marketed to other exhibitors. An urgent telegram from Gilmore to White in England underscored the importance of this business practice:

White: Vitagraph Co. getting foreign films ahead of us. They have received poachers, deserters, falling chimney and others at least ten days ahead of us. This very embarrassing. Unless can have your assurance that arrangements can be made for immediate shipments will send someone to take charge this end of the business. . . . Gilmore.[21]

Edison executives had adopted a business strategy that largely ignored the production capabilities of its film department. By duping foreign films on a massive scale, the department could limit its investment primarily to the cost of negative stock.

The easy money Edison and other American producers had been making from dupes was threatened in March 1903, when Gaston Méliès arrived in the United States to represent his brother Georges. In June he opened a New York office and factory to print and distribute Méliès' "Star" films and to secure the


economic benefits for their creator. His first catalog chided American manufacturers, announcing

GEORGE MELIES , proprietor and manager of the Théâtre Robert-Houdin, Paris, is the originator of the class of cinematograph films which are made from artificially arranged scenes, the creation of which has given new life to the trade at a time when it was dying out. He conceived the idea of portraying comical, magical and mystical views, and his creations have been imitated without success ever since.[22]

He also announced, "we are prepared and determined energetically to pursue all counterfeiters and pirates. We will not speak twice, we will act." Star films were then considered "the acme of life motion photography,"[23] and Georges Méliès was using a double camera to take two negatives of each subject, shipping one to New York. Henceforth, these were copyrighted, putting an end to the duping of future Star films.[24] Edison and other American companies found different makes to dupe, but they now had to face competition in the domestic market from the world's foremost manufacturer.

Production Resumes at Edison

When Edison filmmaking resumed in late April, the Kinetograph Department's organization and personnel had substantially changed. Not only was Markgraf the new manager, but Arthur White and George S. Fleming had left in early April. Fleming was promptly replaced by William Martinetti, a scenic painter who earned $20 per week—the same sum as Porter. With these disruptions, film sales for the 1903-4 business year advanced 20 percent to $91,122—a modest increase given the general industrywide revival and the impact of Great Train Robbery sales late that business year. Production and related film costs, moreover, increased still faster, and film profits fell 13 percent to $24,813.

Although Edison ads ballyhooed Life of an American Fireman , nothing of equal ambition was immediately undertaken. The next sixty-two copyrighted Edison films were brief scenes made for the exhibitor-dominated cinema. Most were part of the popular travel genre. Twelve had been shot by James White in the West Indies during his December 1902 honeymoon (Native Women Coaling a Ship and Scrambling for Money ). With White's arrival in Europe, Abadie was free to tour the Mediterranean basin with his camera. He started out at the Grand Carnival in Nice (Battle of Confetti at the Nice Carnival ); traveled to Syria, Palestine (A Jewish Dance at Jerusalem ) and Egypt (Excavating Scene at the Pyramids of Sakkarah ); then went through Italy, Switzerland, and Paris before reaching England on May 10th. Abadie then returned to the United States, where his films were developed and thirty-four submitted for copyright.

Edison's New York-based cameramen resumed production on April 29th, eight days after Judge Buffington's decision. Over the next two weeks, Edwin



Documenting "the other half": New York City "Ghetto" Fish Market.

Porter and James Smith shot at least fifteen travelogue-type subjects in and around Manhattan. The series included panoramas of the skyline; staged activities by the fire department, police, and harbor patrol (New York Harbor Police Boat Patrol Capturing Pirates ); parades (White Wings on Review ), and scenes of New York's underbelly (New York City Dumping Wharf ). For New York City "Ghetto" Fish Market , Smith placed his camera at a window or on a low rooftop. Looking down on an open air market, it panned along the street as one or two individuals in the crowd stared into its lens.[25] Soon afterwards, Porter stopped off in Sayre, Pennsylvania, and took Lehigh Valley Black Diamond Express , a replacement negative of that still popular subject, on May 13th. Perhaps the cameraman was on a visit to Connellsville; in any case, he had returned to New York City by May 30th, Decoration Day, when he filmed Sixty-Ninth Regiment, N.G.N.Y . as the unit marched up Fifth Avenue. Three weeks later he photographed Africander Winning the Suburban Handicap . Such subjects had been taken for the past six years and had become routine.

Méliès' entry into the American market and the resolution of various court suits encouraged U.S. film companies to produce more ambitious films with American locales and subject matter. If Jack and the Beanstalk and Life of an American Fireman were part of nonspecific urban/industrial genres found in all major producing countries, American story films made in the second half of 1903 tended to be more nationalistic. Biograph's first dramatic headliners, Kit


Carson and The Pioneers , as well as Edison's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Rube and Mandy at Coney Island , and The Great Train Robbery , all used American myths and entertainments as a source.[26] Certainly this made sense, since less nation-specific pictures could be acquired from overseas.

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery and anti-capitalistic novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851) remained immensely popular throughout the North as an affirmation and retrospective justification of the Civil War. Its spectacular story, more than its political content, was kept alive by theatrical adaptations that numerous acting troupes performed in America's opera houses.[27] When the Kinetograph Department returned to production during spring 1903, it arranged for one of these itinerant companies to stage the play's highlights in the Edison studio. This decision may have been influenced by Biograph's May release of Rip Van Winkle , a 200-foot compendium of scenes from the Rip Van Winkle play, showing "the various events beginning with Rip's departure for the mountains and ending with his awakening from his 20 years' sleep."[28] Porter's Uncle Tom's Cabin , which totaled 1,100 feet, was much more ambitious. The play was condensed rather than excerpted. A race between the steamboats Natchez and Robert E. Lee was done in miniature, and a few effects, like the double exposure used to show Eva's ascent to heaven, were reworked to take advantage of the motion picture camera's capabilities.

Porter's Uncle Tom's Cabin has often been criticized for its lack of "cinematic" qualities and viewed as a disappointing regression after Life of an American Fireman .[29] Such criticism feels the absence of a coherent spatial/temporal world as an absolute loss. It valorizes narrowly progressive tendencies in Porter's work, isolating filmic strategies felt to have contributed to the development of Hollywood cinema. While Uncle Tom's Cabin does not fit into a simple linear pattern of development from Life of an American Fireman to The Great Train Robbery , it does represent a sustained exploration of the filmed theater genre that remained an important aspect of Porter's filmmaking career—whether Parsifal (1904), The Devil (1908), or James O'Neill in The Count of Monte Cristo (1912).

A relatively unadulterated record of nineteenth-century theater, Uncle Tom's Cabin displays the presentational elements of this practice that exerted often determining influences on the screen: acting techniques (codified gesture, the playing to an audience), spatial construction (set design, the use of frontal compositions, the maintenance of a proscenium arch), and a nonrealistic, but highly serviceable, temporality. For traveling theater companies, portable sets had to suggest or symbolically represent the locale for a drama. Since changing scenery was difficult, action that moved to a different locale generally had to wait until



Uncle Tom's Cabin. Eliza escapes while Uncle Tom is sold into slavery.

the completion of subsequent actions in the current scene before it could be played out.

The same time frame is shown successively in the last two scenes of Uncle Tom's Cabin . In scene 13, Uncle Tom is beaten on the veranda by Simon Legree's minions and then carried off; George Shelby, Jr., arrives to buy back Tom, then leaves in search of him; and finally Marks—an officer of the law and symbol of the state—kills Legree to revenge the death of Uncle Tom . As the final scene begins, Uncle Tom is still alive in the woodshed and George Shelby, Jr., arrives in time to witness his death. Although Tom's death is shown last, the intertitles and action clearly suggest that it precedes the killing of Legree. Temporality, as in the closing scenes of Life of an American Fireman , is manipulated for emotional and thematic purposes determined in part by a religious interpretation of events. This reordering of events, which violates the linear logic of later narrative cinema, can easily appear naive or inept to modern audiences. For turn-of-the-century audiences, it allowed the emotional highpoint, the death of Uncle Tom, to come last where it belonged.

Viewing the film today, audiences are faced with fundamental problems of comprehension—identifying characters and following narrative development. At the turn of the century, however, the story was part of American folklore and native-born Americans were as familiar with the melodramatic incidents portrayed on the screen as with the mechanics of a fire rescue. As with Jack and the Beanstalk or most news films, the narrative was not presented as if the audience was seeing it for the first time, but existed in reference to a story assumed to be already present in the audience's mind.[30]

Porter's Uncle Tom's Cabin reveals its reliance on audiences' preexisting knowledge in various ways. Following the example of G. A. Smith's Dorothy's Dream , each scene is introduced by a title that does not explain the next scene


but labels it to prime the viewer's preexisting knowledge.[31] General familiarity with the narrative was reflected in most Edison ads and promotional materials, which simply listed the scenes, as if that would adequately define their contents. Even the reprinted description assumed that the reader already knew the various characters. Uncle Tom's Cabin was a ritual reiteration of a common heritage and could trigger deeply felt emotions that audiences already associated with the narrative. But even allowing for this a priori knowledge, the exhibitor could still use a lecture to help audiences follow the on-screen narrative and identify characters whose dress sometimes changed from one scene to the next. For immigrants and those otherwise unfamiliar with the film's frame of reference, additional cues must have been essential.[32]

Uncle Tom's Cabin was heralded by George Kleine as "the most elaborate effort at telling a story in moving pictures yet attempted," and subsequently described as "the largest and most expensive picture yet made in America."[33] By employing an established Uncle Tom's Cabin theatrical company, Porter made a film that looked expensive yet required much less investment than a truly "original" production like Jack and the Beanstalk . Certainly its scale did not intimidate Edison's competitor Sigmund Lubin, who immediately remade it.

Lubin had reacted to Edison's victory in the copyright case with his customary flair: he copyrighted over thirty popular titles without bothering to make the films. These included Three Little Pigs, Old Mother Hubbard , and Jack and Jill .[34] Hearing that Edison intended to film Uncle Tom's Cabin , Lubin copyrighted that title as well, a fact that was shared with customers. As the traveling exhibitor N. Dushane Cloward, informed the Orange laboratory:

While in Lubin's Philada. office yesterday one of his assistants volunteered some information regarding a matter in which I know you people are interested.

It may not be a fact or it may not be news to you or if both it may be of no importance but i [sic ] feel that the statement passed on to you would be of no injustice to Lubin and may be of guidance to you. The conversation was on new film subjects. The party asked me how Edison people were getting along with U/T/Cabin. I having told him that I had been dealing with Edison. I replied that I had heard some talk of the subject being prepared last Spring but knew nothing of it whatever. The representative remarked that Lubin had a copyright for the title of Uncle Tom's Cabin in motion pictures and had it several years.[35]

Cloward's information delayed the film's release from late July to early September while Edison's lawyer investigated. "I learned that Sigmund Lubin has copyrighted a photograph under the title 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' on May 1st 1903," Howard Hayes reported, after consulting the Library of Congress. "That copyright, however, does not give him a monopoly on the title. The copyright applies to the picture itself, regardless of the title, so, unless you copy his picture, he cannot interfere with the use of the title."[36] The following week, Edison


finally advertised its film in the trades. The week after, Lubin announced the imminent release of his Uncle Tom's Cabin .[37]

Edison executives thought Lubin might try to sell their film on the basis of his earlier copyright. Lubin, in fact, simply waited for the picture's release before making his own meticulous imitation. By dropping a cakewalk sequence, increasing the pacing and filming at fewer frames per second, Lubin reduced the length of his version from 1,100 feet to 700 feet. His brochures for the film even lifted entire descriptions from the Edison catalog.[38] With Lubin's pictures underselling Edison's by a penny per foot, his Uncle Tom's Cabin offered substantial savings to exhibitors.

Summer Fun

Following the solemnity of Uncle Tom's Cabin , most Edison productions taken during the summer months involved elements of play. Both before and behind the camera, the spirit of Coney Island frequently prevailed.[39]Little Lillian, Toe Danseuse brought "the youngest premiere danseuse in the world" before the camera and made skillful use of stop-action photography to combine four separate dances into one continuous "shot," with "her beautiful costume changing mysteriously after each dance."[40]Subbubs Surprises the Burglar , the first of several comedies made in rapid succession, was shot on July 16th. Featuring a popular cartoon character, this single-shot film otherwise imitated Biograph's The Burglar-Proof Bed (shot June 27, 1900). When a burglar enters Subhubs' bedroom, "The man awakes and pulls a lever, closing himself up in the folding bed, the bottom of which is iron-clad, with guns and portholes. The burglar is dumbfounded, and cannot move. Subhubs turns his battery loose, blowing the burglar to pieces. He then raises an American flag on a staff on top of the bed as a signal of victory. The bed opens up again and Subhubs goes to sleep."[41] In Street Car Chivalry , an attractive young lady is offered a seat by every man in the trolley. A stout woman with an arm full of bundles, however, is ignored until she loses her balance and collapses on top of a "dude." The narrow limits of male gentility are spoofed, and the different ways each woman claims a seat provide comic repetition. The film was sufficiently popular for Lubin to remake it that fall.[42]

The Gay Shoe Clerk , a brief comedy shot on July 23d, was inspired by at least two films: either Biograph's Don't Get Gay with Your Manicure or No Liberties, Please[43] (shot July 10, 1902) and G. A. Smith's As Seen Through a Telescope , which Edison distributed as The Professor and His Field Glass :


A young man in a manicure parlor attempts to kiss the pretty attendant but has his ears soundly boxed for his trouble.[44]



An old gentleman is shown on a village street, looking for something through a field glass. Suddenly, he levels the glass on a young couple coming up the road. The girl's shoe string came loose, and her companion volunteers to tie it. Here the scene changes, showing how it looks through the old man's glass. A very pretty ankle at short range. Scene changes back again and shows the old fellow tickled to death over the sight. The couple, who, by the way, caught "Peeping Tom," come toward him, and as the young man passes behind him, he knocks off his hat and kicks the stool on which he is sitting, from under him, making the old chap present a rather ludicrous appearance, as he sits in the street. Length 65 feet.[45]


Scene shows interior of shoe-store. Young lady and chaperone enter. While a fresh young clerk is trying a pair of high-heeled slippers on the young lady, the chaperone seats herself and gets interested in a paper. The scene changes to a very close view, showing only the lady's foot and the clerk's hands tying the slipper. As her dress is slightly raised, showing a shapely ankle, the clerk's hands become very nervous, making it difficult for him to tie the slipper. The picture changes back to former scene. The clerk makes rapid progress with his fair customer, and while he is in the act of kissing her the chaperone looks up from her paper, and proceeds to beat the clerk with an umbrella. He falls backward off the stool. Then she takes the young lady by the arm, and leads her from the store. Length 75 feet.[46]

Porter's film inverts one gender position in the Biograph narrative (in which the manicurist's lover-husband boxes the man's ears). Likewise, it dispenses with Smith's matte and explicit point-of-view motivation but keeps the "very close view" of the woman's ankle. It is the man behind the camera (and presumably the male viewer) instead of the man behind the telescope whose attention is focused on the woman's ankle, motivating the cut to a closer view. Such simple shifts and recombinations suggest the variations that frequently characterized "originality" in this period.

The Gay Shoe Clerk valorizes the spectator's position in a manner that recalls What Demoralized the Barbershop (1897). True, the young man not only sees but touches and even kisses the young lady, but his transgression is promptly greeted by a bash on the head from the chaperone. Meanwhile, the male spectator enjoys the woman's ankle and the shoe clerk's chastisement. In fact, both pictures suggest that cinema, by removing the spectator's physical presence from the scene, allows the (male) viewer to take pleasure in what is otherwise forbidden. The close view of the young lady's ankle is shown against a plain background to further focus the viewer's attention, suggesting the subjective nature of the shot and abstracting it from the scene. Not only does this second shot have a different background, but the female customer probably had a stand-in. Her dress, at least, is different: the far shot does not reveal the white petticoats, which are prominently displayed in the closer view. Porter and other



The Gay Shoe Clerk. The cut from a very close view back to establishing shot.




early filmmakers obviously anticipated the editorial principles of the artificial woman articulated by Lev Kuleshov.[47] The ankle is also isolated in an abstracted space. While Porter seems to have been concerned with matching action, the cut did not involve a seamless "move in" through a spatially continuous world but functioned within a syncretic representational system.[48]

Playfulness was plentiful at the Edison studio. Thinking up skits and pulling them off was fun even if work weeks were long. One can imagine Abadie's leg—or that of some other assistant—filling the young lady's stocking in The Gay Shoe Clerk . Tasks were manageable and varied. The integration of work and play was particularly evident during August, when the cameramen chose activities that took them to resort areas and the seashore. Informal supervision and the quotidian nature of many films enabled these employees to sneak away from the hot city and relax.

On several occasions, Edison personnel took their cameras to Coney Island, where they produced actualities such as Shooting the Rapids at Luna Park and Rattan Slide and General View of Luna Park .[49] There, Porter made the "headliner" copyrighted as Rube and Mandy at Coney Island , but listed in Edison's catalog under a slightly different title:


The first scene shows this country couple entering Steeplechase Park. They proceed to amuse themselves on the steeplechase, rope bridge, riding the bulls and the "Down and Out." The scene then changes to a panorama of Luna Park, and we find Rube and Mandy doing stunts on the rattan slide, riding on the miniature railway, shooting the chutes, riding the boats in the old mill, and visiting Professor Wormwood's Monkey theatre. They next appear on the Bowery, where we find them with the fortune tellers, striking the punching machine and winding up with the frankfurter man. The climax shows a bust view of Rube and Mandy eating frankfurters. Interesting not only for its humorous features, but also for its excellent views of Coney Island and Luna Park. Length 725 feet.[50]

Rube and Mandy at Coney Island can be compared to exhibitor-constructed programs of the period that combined travel views or scenics with short comedies—a programming idea suggested by William Selig. One can imagine a program on Coney Island consisting of Shooting the Rapids at Luna Park and similar films, but laced with studio comics for variety.[51] Working within such a syncretic framework, Porter integrated comedy and scenery, maintaining a consistent tone from one shot to the next even as he perpetuated this dichotomy within the individual shots.

In Rube and Mandy at Coney Island , two country bumpkins experience the marvels of New York's famous amusement park. While the vaudeville actors did their bits in stage costume with exaggerated gestures, Porter treated Coney Island for its scenic value with a highly mobile camera (five shots contain significant camera movement) still associated with actuality material. In several



We see Prof. Wormwood and his Dog and Monkey Theater over Rube
 and Mandy's shoulders in Rube  and Mandy at Coney Island.

scenes the performers' improvisations forced Porter to accommodate the unexpected by following the action with his camera. In another scene, the actors' movements about the amusement park enabled the camera to photograph a "circular panorama." The performers are often subservient to a scenic impulse, not only with the panorama but at Professor Wormwood's Dog and Monkey Theater, where the film viewer looks over the actors' shoulders to see the animals perform. The couple mediates the audience's experience of the amusement park and ties together a series of potentially discrete views as they move from one ride to the next. At other moments, Coney Island serves as a setting for the comedians' business. The scenes are arranged through an association of analogous situations: Rube and Mandy's arrival in an absurd carriage is followed by rides on wooden horses and a cow; "Shooting the Chutes" is followed by a ride in a love boat. Although the film has little narrative development, it achieves a degree of closure, opening with the couple's arrival and ending with an apotheosis-like "bust view" of the two eating a hot dog against a black background. This final scene repeats the preceding one while abstracting it from the Coney Island setting and reducing it to a "facial expression" shot.

Porter spent mid August in the popular seaside resort of Atlantic City, mak-


ing at least one film during his working vacation. Seashore Frolics , staged using cooperative vacationers, ends with a persistent still photographer (Porter's assistant?) being dumped into the ocean by good-natured bathers. The cameraman closed his summer season of filming at the New York Caledonian Club's 47th annual festival of sports on Labor Day.

That August, A. C. Abadie was at Coney Island (Orphans in the Surf and Baby Class at Lunch ), then retreated to Wilmington, where he filmed outdoor scenes for N. Dushane Cloward. Cloward, a traveling exhibitor who played churches and noncommercial venues during the theatrical season, opened a motion picture show in Brandywine Springs Park for the summer of 1903.[52] He arranged with the Edison Company to take local views that would attract patrons to his theater. Cloward had Abadie photograph a baby review and a Maypole dance on August 21st.[53] Together they organized the filming of Turning the Tables and Tub Race at the local swimming hole. In the former, a policeman tries to chase a group of boys out of a forbidden swimming hole, but finds himself pushed into the water instead. The naughty boys break the law; but the law, rather than the boys, has to pay.

Cameraman J. B. Smith, although principally confined to the Orange laboratory, where he remained in charge of print production, spent part of August photographing the America's Cup races between the Reliance and Sir Thomas Lipton's Shamrock III . This news event, however, was not given the amount of attention it had received two years earlier. Only three films were offered for sale: two covered the start and finish of the first race on August 22d. The third film, taken midway through the second race, was not considered worth copyrighting. The films were offered as individual topicals rather than a complete series worthy of headliner status.

The Porter-Abadie-Smith trio continued to be the responsible photographers during the fall. After Labor Day, Porter returned to his New York base, where he filmed Eastside Urchins Bathing in a Fountain and New York City Public Bath as part of his continuing documentation of the city's ghetto life. In a sweeping panorama, the 150-foot Tompkins Square Play Grounds documents a supervised playground with basketball and boys forming a human pyramid for the camera. Porter followed his Lower Eastside shoots with various short com-edies. Two Chappies in a Box is set in a vaudeville theater, where two male spectators respond to a female performer on the stage. For today's viewer, the humor comes from a simple psychoanalytic reading. A phallic wine bottle stands between the two men on the railing of their box, and they become so excited over the woman's singing that they spill the contents and ruin the draperies. For this offense they are quickly expelled. As with many of these short comedies, an obscene joke lurks just below the surface of a film that seems to be teaching a moral lesson—that rowdy behavior will not be tolerated. Between such minor comedies, Porter filmed The Physical Culture Girl , a vaudeville-type turn that



Two Chappies in a Box.

featured the recent winner of the Physical Culture Show at Madison Square Garden. Two months earlier, Biograph had made a similar subject with the same title. Porter's Heavenly Twins at Lunch and Heavenly Twins at Odds , of baby twins, appealed to Americans' love for small children (the New York Journal , for instance, consistently ran pictures of babies, playing to its readers' sentiments).

Smith spent most of the fall working as a foreman at the West Orange film plant, while Abadie traveled along the East coast taking films of floods, fire ruins, parades, and the Princeton-Yale football game. Like Porter, they were expected to perform multiple tasks. Abadie, in particular, functioned as a roving cameraman sent on special assignment (i.e., the cameraman system). Many of these short Edison films, particularly the topicals, were done in a perfunctory fashion, perhaps because similar subject matter had been shot so frequently. After seeing films of the Galveston disaster in 1900, audiences might be expected to find Flood Scene in Paterson, N.J ., photographed by Abadie in mid October, somewhat anticlimactic. The law of diminishing returns seemed to operate and Markgraf, like other American film executives, failed to mobilize his cameramen to mount the elaborate and timely coverage that might have kept alive White's


vision of a visual newspaper. Interest was shifting to the cinema's capacity as a storytelling form. This was particularly apparent at Biograph.

In March 1903, after losing the Keith theaters as an exhibition outlet, the Biograph Company reassessed its business strategies and placed new emphasis on fictional narratives. By June, Biograph had opened an indoor film studio with electric lighting at its newly acquired offices on Fourteenth Street.[54] If the Edison Company's glass-enclosed studio had had advantages over Biograph's old rooftop facility at 841 Broadway, the competitive edge returned to Biograph, since filming was no longer affected by weather and winter hours. In the months immediately following the studio's completion, Biograph cameramen shot many multishot fictional subjects. Most were not offered immediately for sale but used as exclusive headliners for Biograph's revived exhibition service. Biograph's resurgence in production and its commitment to a 35mm format revived the company's fortunes. By August, Biograph had regained its position on the Keith circuit and was again competing seriously with Edison.

The move toward story films had accelerated by the latter half of 1903. Lubin made Ten Nights in a Bar-Room (700 feet) in October.[55] Although fairy-tale films like Méliès' Fairyland and Hepworth's Alice in Wonderland continued to be popular, English story films depicting crimes and violence began to appear and found receptive audiences. Sheffield Photo's A Daring Daylight Burglary , British Gaumont/Walter Haggar's Desperate Poaching Affray and R. W. Paul's Trailed by Bloodhounds were duped and sold by Edison, Biograph, and Lubin between June and October 1903.[56] Such films provided inspiration and competitive pressures that help to explain the production of Porter's most famous subject, The Great Train Robbery .

The Great Train Robbery

In late October, Porter began working with a young actor, Max Aronson. Earlier that month, the thespian had toured with Mary Emerson's road company of His Majesty and the Maid .[57] The engagement did not work out, and he returned to New York in need of employment. After changing his name to George M. Anderson, Aronson found work at the Edison studio, thinking up gags (Buster's Joke on Papa , shot October 23d) and appearing in pictures (What Happened in the Tunnel , photographed on October 30th and 31st). Porter continued to collaborate with Anderson on numerous subjects over the next several months, including The Great Train Robbery .

The Great Train Robbery was photographed at Edison's New York studio and in New Jersey at Essex County Park (the bandits cross a stream at Thistle Mill Ford in the South Mountain Reservation) and along the Lackawanna railway during November 1903.[58] Justus D. Barnes played the head bandit; Anderson the slain passenger, the tenderfoot dancing to gunshots, and one of the robbers; and Walter Cameron the sheriff. Many of the extras were Edison em-


ployees. Most of the Kinetograph Department's staff contributed to the picture: J. Blair Smith was one of the photographers and Anderson may have assisted with the direction.[59]

The film was first announced to the public in early November 1903 as a "highly sensationalized Headliner" that would be ready for distribution early that month.[60] Since the Edison Manufacturing Company urged exhibitors to order in advance and the film was not ready until early December, the delay probably explains why the Kinetograph Department submitted a rough cut of the film for copyright purposes. It avoided distribution snags once the release prints were available. The paper print version of the film, copyrighted by the Library of Congress, is longer than the final release print by about fifteen feet. Over the years, surviving copies of the film have been duped and offered for sale. Although a few have suffered extensive alteration, most have their integrity fundamentally intact. One of the most interesting versions was hand tinted.[61]

The Great Train Robbery had its debut at Huber's Museum, where Waters' Kinetograph Company had an exhibition contract. The following week it was shown at eleven theaters in and around New York City—including the Eden Musee.[62] Its commercial success was unprecedented and so remarkable that contemporary critics still tend to account for the picture's historical significance largely in terms of its commercial success and its impact on future fictional narratives. Kenneth Macgowan attributes this success to the fact that The Great Train Robbery was "the first important western."[63] William Everson and George Fenin find it important because "it was the first dramatically creative American film, which was also to set the pattern—of crime, pursuit and retribution—for the Western film as a genre."[64] Robert Sklar, viewing the film in broader terms, accounts for much of the film's lasting popularity. He points out that Porter was "the first to unite motion picture spectacle with myth and stories about America that were shared by people throughout the world."[65] Little more has been said about Porter's representational strategies since Lewis Jacobs praised the headliner for its "excellent editing."[66] Noël Burch, André Gaudreault, and David Levy are among the few who have discussed the film's cinematic strategies with any historical specificity; their useful analyses, however, can be pushed further.[67]The Great Train Robbery is a remarkable film not simply because it was commercially successful or incorporated American myths into the repertoire of screen entertainment, but because it presents so many trends, genres, and strategies fundamental to cinematic practice at that time.

Porter's film meticulously documents a process, applying what Neil Harris calls "an operational aesthetic" to the depiction of a crime.[68] With unusual detail, it traces the exact steps of a train robbery and the means by which the bandits are tracked down and killed. The film's narrative structure, as Gaudreault notes, utilizes temporal repetition within an overall narrative progression. The robbery of the mail car (scene 3) and the fight on the tender (scene



4) occur simultaneously according to the catalog description, even though they are shown successively. This returning to an earlier moment in time to pick up another aspect of the narrative recurs again in a more extreme form, as the telegraph operator regains consciousness and alerts the posse, which departs in pursuit of the bandits. These two scenes (10 and 11) trace a second line of action, which apparently unfolds concurrently with the robbery and getaway (scenes 2 through 9), although Porter's temporal construction remains imprecise and open to interpretation by the showman's spiel or by audiences through their subjective understanding. These two separate lines of action are reunited within a brief chase scene (shot 12) and yield a resolution in the final shoot-out (shot 13).

The issue of narrative clarity and efficiency is raised by The Great Train Robbery . At one point, three separate actions are shown that occur more or less


simultaneously in scenes 3, 4, and 10. How were audiences, even those that understood the use of temporal repetition and overlap in narrative cinema, to know that scenes 3 and 4 happened simultaneously, but not scenes 1 and 2? How were they to determine the relationships between shots 1-9 and 10-11 until they had seen shot 12? There are no intertitles, and much depended on audience familiarity with other forms of popular culture where the same basic story was articulated. Scott Marble's play The Great Train Robbery , Wild West shows, and newspaper accounts of train holdups were more than sources of inspiration: they facilitated audience understanding by providing a necessary frame of reference. While The Great Train Robbery demonstrated that the screen could tell an elaborate, gripping story, it also defined the limits of a certain kind of narrative construction.

The common belief that The Great Train Robbery was an isolated breakthrough is inaccurate. While Porter was making his now famous film, Biograph produced The Escaped Lunatic , a hit comedy in which a group of wardens chase an inmate who has escaped from a mental institution.[69] On the very day that Thomas Edison copyrighted his celebrated picture, Biograph copyrighted a 290-foot subject made by British Gaumont, Runaway Match , involving an elaborate car chase between an eloping couple and the girl's parents. Eleven days later the film was offered for sale as An Elopement a la Mode .[70]

A Daring Daylight Burglary , which the Edison Company had duped and marketed in late June, was particularly influential in creating the framework within which Porter produced The Great Train Robbery ,[71] even though American popular culture provided the specific subject matter. Edison's 1901 Stage Coach Hold-up , a film adaptation of Buffalo Bill's "Hold-up of the Deadwood Stage," served as one source. The title and initial idea for the film were suggested, however, by Scott Marble's melodrama. The New York Clipper provides a story synopsis:

A shipment of $50,000 in gold is to be made from the office of the Wells Fargo Express Co. at Kansas City, Mo., and this fact becomes known to a gang of train robbers through their secret agent who is a clerk in the employ of the company. The conspirators, learning the time when the gold is expected to arrive, plan to substitute boxes filled with lead for those which contain the precious metal. The shipment is delayed, and the lead filled boxes are thereby discovered to be dummies. This discovery leads to an innocent man being accused of the crime. Act 2 is laid in Broncho Joe's mountain saloon in Texas, where the train robbers receive accurate information regarding the gold shipment and await its arrival. The train is finally held-up at a lonely mountain station and the car blown open. The last act occurs in the robber's retreat in the Red River cañon. To this place the thieves are traced by United States marshals and troops, and a pitched battle occurs in which Cowboys and Indians also participate.[72]

The play premiered on September 20, 1896, at the Alhambra Theater in Chicago, and soon came to the New York area, where it was well received.[73]



One page of Edison's illustrated catalog for The Great Train Robbery. 
The operational aesthetic at work: the film details the robbery of a train step by step.

Periodically revived thereafter, the melodrama played at Manhattan's New Star Theater in February 1902. Porter could have easily seen it on several occasions.

The Great Train Robbery was advertised as a reenactment film "posed and acted in faithful duplication of the genuine 'Hold-ups' made famous by various outlaw bands in the far West."[74] News stories of train holdups, like the ones appearing in September 1903, may have encouraged a more authentic detailing


of events (see document no. 14). Eastern holdups, also evoked in Edison ads, took place in Pennsylvania on the Reading Railroad in late November—after the film was completed. A telegraph operator was murdered and several stations held up by "a desperate gang of outlaws who are believed to have their rendezvous somewhere in the lonely mountain passes along the Shamokin Division."[75] It was hoped that such incidents would make the film of timely interest. The Great Train Robbery continued to be indebted to at least one aspect of the newspapers, the feuilletons in Sunday editions, with their highly romanticized, but supposedly true, stories of contemporary interest.



Express Messenger Prevents Robbery-Bullet Wounds Engineer.

Portland, Ore. Sept. 24.-The Atlantic Express on the Oregon Railroad and Navigation line, which left here at 8:15 o'clock last night, was held up by four masked men an hour later near Corbett station, twenty-one miles east of this city. One of the robbers was shot and killed by "Fred" Kerner, the express messenger. "Ollie" Barrett, the engineer, was seriously wounded by the same bullet. The robbers fled after the shooting, without securing any booty. Two of the highwaymen boarded the train at Troutdale, eighteen miles east of here, and crawled over the tender and to the engine, where they made the engineer stop near Corbett station.

When the train stopped two more men appeared. Two of the robbers compelled the engineer to get out of the cab and accompany them to the express car, while the others watched the fireman. The men carried several sticks of dynamite, and, when they came to the baggage car, thinking it was the express car, threw a stick at the door. Kerner heard the explosion, and immediately got to work with his rifle. The first bullet pierced the heart of one of the robbers and went through his body, entering the left breast of Barrett, who was just behind. Barrett's wound is above the heart, and is not necessarily fatal.

After the shooting the other robbers fled, without securing any booty, and it is supposed that they took to a boat, as the point where the hold-up occurred is on the Columbia River.

The robbers ordered Barrett to walk in front while approaching the baggage car, but he jumped behind just before the express messenger fired. The body of the dead robber was left behind on the track, and the wounded engineer was brought to this city. Sheriff Story and four deputy sheriffs went on a special train to the scene of the robbery, where one of the gang of outlaws was found badly wounded from a charge of buckshot

(Text box continued on next page)


which he received in the hand. He said that his name was James Connors of this city but refused to tell the names of any of the other bandits or the direction in which they went. The Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company offers a reward of $1 000 for the arrest of the highwaymen.

SOURCE : New York Tribune September 25 1903p. 14.

As David Levy has pointed out, it was within the genre of reenactment films that Porter exploited procedures that heighten the realism and believability of the image.[76]Execution of Czolgosz and Capture of the Biddle Brothers provided Porter with an approach to filming the robbery, chase, and shoot-out. In Execution of Czolgosz he had intensified the illusion of authenticity by integrating actuality and reenactment, scenery and drama. In The Great Train Robbery he took this a step further, using mattes to introduce exteriors into studio scenes. On location, Porter used his camera as if he were filming a news event over which he had no control. In scenes 2, 7, and 8 the camera is forced to follow action that threatens to move outside the frame. For scene 7 the camera has to move unevenly down and over to the left. Since camera mounts were designed either to pan or tilt, this move is somewhat shaky. This "dirty" image only adds to the film's realism. The notion of a scene being played on an outdoor stage was undermined. Biograph described the desired effect when advertising The Escaped Lunatic : "Fortunately there were a number of . . . cameras situated around the country . . . and this most astonishing episode was completely covered in moving pictures."[77]

The Chase

The chase became a popular form of screen narrative in 1903; The Great Train Robbery and Biograph's The Escaped Lunatic were the first American productions to reveal its impact. The chase appeared early in cinema history: an Irish cop chases a "Chinaman" through a revolving set in Chinese Laundry Scene (1894), and a mad dash lasting a split second ends G. A. Smith's The Miller and the Sweep (1898). James Williamson's Stop Thief! (1901 ) isolated the provocation, the chase, and the resolution in three different camera setups. These remained isolated occurrences. Porter's Jack and the Beanstalk (1902), for instance, ignored the dramatic potential of the chase as the giant climbs down the beanstalk after Jack. According to American catalogs and trade journals from the early nickelodeon era, the two English imports A Daring Daylight Burglary and Desperate Poaching Affray initiated the craze.[78] The chase provided a new kind of subject matter, a new narrative framework that would be elaborated and refined in succeeding years until one-reel pictures such as Griffith's The Girl and Her Trust (1912) and Mack Sennett's comedies had seemingly exhausted its possibilities within their alloted one thousand feet.


Although the chase is implied throughout most of The Great Train Robbery , it only becomes explicit for a single shot (scene 12). The Escaped Lunatic , in contrast, makes the chase the dominant element of the film, as it would be for subsequent Biograph subjects such as Personal (June 1904) and The Lost Child (October 1904). As used by Biograph, the chase encouraged a simplification of story line and a linear progression of narrative that made the need for a familiar story or a showman's narration unnecessary. These chase films locate the redundancy within the films themselves as pursuers and pursued engage repeatedly, with only slight variation, in the same activity. Rather than having a lecture explain images in a parallel fashion, rather than having the viewer's familiarity with a story provide the basis for an understanding, chase films created a self-sufficient narrative in which the viewer's appreciation was based chiefly on the experience of information presented within the film. This had, of course, been true for certain types of films since the 1890s, most particularly trick films and some actualities. The chase, however, greatly expanded the domain and the means by which this relationship between audience and screen subject could operate.

While The Escaped Lunatic and its English predecessors pointed the way to a more modern form of storytelling by presenting a self-sufficient narrative, they did not inaugurate a full-scale transformation of the representational system, which was necessary before this modern viewer/screen relationship became the dominant mode of reception. Although historians usually place The Great Train Robbery at the cutting edge of cinema, noting correctly that it was often the first film to play in an opening nickelodeon, Porter's work can already be seen as moving at a tangent to cinema's forward thrust. Porter's initial use of the chase was not to create a simple, easily understood narrative but to incorporate it within a popular and more complex story.

The Railway Subgenre: Spectator as Passenger

To be fully appreciated, The Great Train Robbery must be situated within the travel program's railway subgenre. The railroad and the screen have had a special relationship, symbolized by the Lumières' famous Train Entering a Station (1895) and half a dozen other films. Both affected our perception of space and time in somewhat analogous ways. Describing the shift from animal-powered transportation to the railroad, Wolfgang Schivelbusch has remarked: "As the natural irregularities of the terrain that were perceptible on the old roads are replaced by the sharp linearity of the railroad, the traveler feels that he has lost contact with the landscape, experiencing this most directly when going through a tunnel. Early descriptions of journeys on the railroad note that the railroad and the landscape through which it runs are in two separate worlds."[79] The traveler's world is mediated by the railroad, not only by the


compartment window with its frame but by telegraph wires, which intercede between the passenger and the landscape. The sensation of separation that the traveler feels on viewing the rapidly passing landscape has much in common with the theatrical experience of the spectator. It is not surprising, therefore, that an important subgenre of the travelogue centered on the train. This equation of train window with the screen's rectangle found its ultimate expression with Hale's Tours.

In the 1890s illustrated lectures, often known as "lantern journeys," featured railroads as the best way to reach and view American scenery. These frequently created a spatially coherent world with views of the train passing through the countryside, of the traveler/lecturer in the train, of scenery that could be seen out the window or from the front of the train, and finally of small incidents on sidings or at railway stations. The railroad, which carried its passengers through the countryside, was ideally suited for moving the narrative forward through time and space. John Stoddard and other lecturers presented these journeys as alternatives to travel for those who lacked the time, money, or fortitude for such undertakings.[80] Offering personal accounts of their adventures, these professional voyagers were figures with whom audiences could identify and from whom they could derive vicarious experience and pleasure. Audience identification with showman Burton Holmes took place on three levels—with the traveler shown by the camera to be within the narrative—a subject of the camera; with the showman as the cameraman—the producer of images of a certain quality; and, finally, as a speaker at the podium—with a certain voice and narrational perspective. The point-of-view shot out the window or from the front of a train was privileged in such a system because it conflated camera, character, and narration.

The introduction of moving pictures reinforced the parallels between train travel and projected image. "According to Newton," observes Schivelbusch, "'size, shape, quantity and motion' are the only qualities that can be objectively perceived in the physical world. Indeed, those become the only qualities that the railroad traveler is now able to observe in the landscape he travels through. Smells, sounds, not to mention the synesthetic perceptions that were part of travel in Goethe's time, simply disappear."[81] This new mode of perception, which is initially disorienting, then pleasurable, is recreated as the moving pictures, taken by a camera from a moving train, are projected onto the screen.

The epiphany of going through a tunnel likewise found a prominence in this subgenre that matched its significance in train travel. An early review of such a film begins by contrasting the resulting effect to an earlier moving picture novelty derived from pre-cinema lantern shows—the onrushing express:

The spectator was not an outsider watching from safety the rush of the cars. He was a passenger on a phantom train ride that whirled him through space at nearly a mile a minute. There was no smoke, no glimpse of shuddering frame or crushing wheels.



What Happened in the Tunnel. Outwitted and humiliated,
 the "masher" tries to hide behind a newspaper.

There was nothing to indicate motion save that shining vista of tracks that was eaten up irresistibly, rapidly, and the disappearing panorama of banks and fences.

The train was invisible and yet the landscape swept by remorselessly, and far away the bright day became a spot of darkness. That was the mouth of the tunnel, and toward it the spectator was hurled as if a fate was behind him. The spot of blackness became a canopy of gloom. The darkness closed around and the spectator was being flung through that cavern with the demoniac energy behind him. The shadows, the rush of the invisible force and the uncertainty of the issues made one instinctively hold his breath as when on the edge of a crisis that might become a catastrophe.[82]

As this novelty wore off, phantom rides became incorporated into the travel narrative, enabling the showman to literalize the traveler's movement through time and space.

The railway subgenre soon incorporated short scenes for comic relief. G. A. Smith made a one-shot film of a couple kissing in a railway carriage—a gag that had comic strip antecedents. He suggested that showmen insert Kiss in the Tunnel into the middle of a phantom ride, after the train had entered the tunnel. Unlike the structuring strategies suggested by Selig,[83] comedy and scenery were contained within the same fictional world. Ferdinand Zecca's Flirt en chernin de fer (1901) was intended for the same use, but rather than require the entrance



A Romance of the Rail. Not only does Phoebe Snow wear a white gown on the Lackawanna 
Railroad, but tramps ride the rails in their evening dress and decline a dusting off from the
 astounded conductor.

of the train into a dark tunnel, Zecca matted in a window view of passing countryside. A Lubin film, Love in a Railroad Train (1902), depicts a male traveler's unsuccessful attempts to sneak a kiss from a woman passenger. When they emerge from the tunnel, it turns out that he is kissing her baby's bottom.[84] Porter combined a variation on Lubin's gag with Zecca's use of a matte to make What Happened in the Tunnel . A forward young lover (G. M. Anderson) tries to kiss the woman sitting in front of him when the train goes into the tunnel but ends up kissing her black-faced maid instead. The two women, who anticipate his attempt and switch places, have a laugh at his expense. The substitution of a black maid for a baby's bottom suggests the casual use of demeaning racial stereotypes in this period. What Happened in the Tunnel was the last film Porter made before The Great Train Robbery : its matte shot served as an experiment for similar efforts (scenes 1 and 3 of the headliner).

A Romance of the Rail , filmed in August but not copyrighted until October 3, 1903, elaborated on the comic interlude. To counter its image as a coal carrier, the Lackawanna Railroad, known as "The Road of Anthracite," developed an advertising campaign in which passenger Phoebe Snow, dressed in white, rode the rails and praised the line's cleanliness in such slogans as:

Says Phoebe Snow, about to go
Upon a trip to Buffalo:
"My gown stays white from morn till night
Upon the Road of Anthracite."[85]

A Romance of the Rail lightheartedly spoofs not only the slogans but the advertisements' photographic illustrations. Like Rube and Mandy at Coney Island , the film combines scenery and comic relief. The narrative is clearly paramount


as Phoebe Snow meets her male counterpart (also dressed in white) for the first time at a railway station. They fall in love and marry in the course of a brief ride, spoofing romantic associations with train travel. Scenery is pushed into the background, except in the fourth shot, where the camera framing gives equal emphasis to the scenery and the couple, who are, like the spectator, watching the scenery. Although Romance of the Rail has a beginning, middle, and end, it lacks strict closure since exhibitors often inserted the film into a program of railway panoramas. The ratio and relative importance of scenery to story were left to their discretion.

Audiences for these films continued to assume the vicarious role of passenger. One moment they would be looking at the scenery from the train; at another they would be looking at the antics of fellow passengers. Hale's Tours made this convention explicit by using a simulated railway carriage as a movie theater, with the audience sitting in the passenger seats and the screen replacing the view from the front or rear window. This theater/carriage came complete with train clatter and the appropriate swaying. The superrealism of the exhibition strategy was adumbrated by bits of action along the sidings and in the train, which contradicted the suggestion of a fixed point of view. Coherence was sacrificed in favor of variety and a good show. Whether What Happened in the Tunnel or A Romance of the Rail were used in the first Hale's Tour Car at Electric Park in Kansas City during the summer of 1905 is not known, but such use would seem logical.[86] When Hale's Tours became a popular craze in 1906, however, these films were advertised again in the trades as "Humorous Railway Scenes" with this purpose specifically in mind.[87]

The Great Train Robbery brought the railway subgenre to new heights. During the first eight scenes, the train is kept in almost constant view: seen through the window, as a fight unfolds on the tender, from the inside of the mail car, by the water tower, or along the tracks as the cab is disconnected and the passengers are relieved of their money. Although the film was initially shown as a headliner in vaudeville theaters with its integrity intact, it was also introduced by railway panoramas in Hale's Tours—type situations. The spectators start out as railway passengers watching the passing countryside, but they are abruptly assaulted by a close-up of the outlaw Barnes firing his six-shooter directly into their midst. (This shot was shown either at the beginning or end of the film. In a Hale's Tours situation it would seem more effective at the beginning, in a vaudeville situation at the end as an apotheosis.) The viewers, having assumed the role of passengers, are held up. The close-up of the outlaw Barnes reiterates the spectators' point of view, brings them into the subsequent narrative, and intensifies their identification with the bandits' victims. Since this shot is abstracted from the narrative and the "realistic" exteriors of earlier scenes, the title that the Edison catalog assigned to this shot—"Realism"—might at first appear singularly inappropriate.[88] Yet the heightening of realism in twentieth-century


cinema has been associated not only with a move toward greater naturalism but with a process of identification and emotional involvement with the drama. It is this second aspect of realism that the close-up intensifies.

The process of viewer identification with the passengers in a Hale's Tour presentation of The Great Train Robbery was overdetermined: introductory railway panoramas, reinforced by the simulated railway carriage and the close-up of Barnes, turned viewers into passengers. These strategies of viewer identification coincided with the viewer's social predisposition to side with responsible members of society being victimized by lawless elements. The second portion of the film, however, breaks with the railway subgenre and this overdetermination and becomes a chase. The presence of the passengers is forgotten. Music or simulated gunshots, rather than railway clatter, became the appropriate sound effects.[89] The breakdown of the viewer-as-passenger strategy, always just below the surface of the railway genre, was complete by the end of the film. This breakdown subsequently occurred on an entirely different level as well. Adolph Zukor, who would work with Porter ten years later, managed a Hale's Tours car in Herald Square during the early stages of his motion picture career. After the venture's initial success, he began to lose money until the customary phantom rides were followed by The Great Train Robbery . Although this combination revived his customers' interest and his own profits, Zukor eventually replaced the simulated carriage with a more conventional storefront theater.[90]

Another Change in Personnel

Early in 1904 the Edison Manufacturing Company was forced to find yet another manager for its Kinetograph Department. Shortly after the release of The Great Train Robbery , William Markgraf went to England on motion picture business. Once there, he went on a month-long drunken binge. In the midst of his alcoholic haze, he bought at least 200,000 feet of Lumière film stock without proper authorization.[91] Gilmore was forced to call his brother-in-law back to the United States and ask for his resignation. Although Markgraf's salary was terminated in late March, he had been effectively removed from any position of responsibility somewhat earlier. Perhaps because Porter assumed extra responsibilities as a result—and could claim credit for The Great Train Robbery —the studio manager's salary, which had been raised to $25 per week in October, was increased again to $35 per week. Moreover, an M. Porter, undoubtedly Porter's youngest brother Everett Melbourne, was hired at $4 per week—an office boy's salary—early in the year.

Few promising candidates appeared to fill the position Markgraf was vacating. Alex T. Moore, who had known Gilmore since their mutual employment by Edison electric light companies, applied for the job sometime in January.


Gilmore, uncertain of Moore's qualifications, sent him to be interviewed by Percival Waters at the Kinetograph Company. As Waters later recalled,

Moore came into my office one day with a card of introduction from Mr. Gilmore. He stated to me that he had applied to Mr. Gilmore who was an old friend of his for a position with the Edison Manufacturing Company. Mr Gilmore said to him that he might have an opening in the film manufacturing department, but thought that he would require a man experienced in the moving picture business and suggested that he call upon me and talk over the requirements of that business. I told Moore that I would be very glad to give him any information which I had and went over my experience and what I thought would be required of a manager of such a department. He said that he believed he could easily pick up the details. He thanked me for the information I had given him and I told him that if he should secure the position he must feel that he could call upon me at any and all times and that I would do my best to acquaint him with the business. Afterwards, said Gilmore asked me if I had seen Moore and I told him that I had and that he seemed to have a good appearance and I didn't question but that he could operate the department satisfactorily.[92]

Waters' ties with the Edison Company had developed sufficiently for him to exercise an indirect veto over the hiring of key personnel. The exhibitor may have even been pleased at the prospect of working with an inexperienced manager, since the novice would frequently be dependent on him and his knowledge of the industry. Moore's assumption of the position in late March inevitably strengthened Waters' ability to make Edison's Kinetograph Department serve the interests of his Kinetograph Company.

Moore was conditionally hired at $50 per week. After a two-month trial, his salary was raised to $75 per week, including retroactive pay. One of Moore's first orders of business was to dispose of Markgraf's legacy of Lumière film, which had proved defective. When the stock was run through a projector, the emulsion stripped off the base. It could only be used as leader. (No wonder Eastman Kodak dominated the industry!) Joseph McCoy, Edison's undercover agent, later reminisced about the disposal of the unsatisfactory material:

Moore wanted to get clear of the Lumiere Company film. I was to sell the film to other manufacturers of films and the Edison Company was not to be known in the transaction.

I sold some of the film to the Edison Company at 4¢ a foot. Other manufacturers said if it was good enough for the Edison Company to use, they would buy some of the film.

I sold 160,000 feet of the Lumiere film. Geo Melier [sic ] of East 38th Street [sic ] bought 10,000 feet. Smith of the Vitagraph Company bought the film and Lubin of Philadelphia. They all had the same trouble with the film stripping from the celluloid base.[93]

McCoy's practical solution typified the business ethics often practiced by Edison, his associates, and American industry. Today it would be called fraud.


Although The Great Train Robbery caused Edison film sales to surge in December 1903, such "headliners" were still considered only one dimension of Porter's production responsibilities. The producer thus turned his attention to making short comedies, including the timely Christmas subject Under the Mistletoe , and filming winter scenery, for example Crossing Ice Bridge at Niagara Falls and Ice Skating in Central Park, N.Y . Multishot comedies like Casey's Frightful Dream (January 1904) and Little German Band (February 1904) were increasingly typical. The latter film required three different studio sets—one for each shot. A small band plays music outside a saloon, and the owner invites them inside, generously giving each a glass of beer. They drink up and after one musician surreptitiously fills his tuba with brew from a conveniently located keg, they depart. Outside the band share the spoils, using their instruments as drinking vessels. The suspicious saloon keeper, however, catches them in the act. If children can be naughty and escape retribution in most early films, men who act like boys are rarely so lucky. In these comedies, punishment of adults usually involves social or sexual humiliation.

During early 1904, Porter continued to work closely with G. M. Anderson who appeared in such productions as Wifey's Mistake and Halloween Night at the Seminary . In the latter film, Anderson spies on a group of young girls in pajamas who are dunking for apples and playing other Halloween games. When the girls discover the Peeping Tom, they dunk him in the tub of water, an overly large vagina-like container (the scene cries out for a simple psychoanalytic reading). The film's play with pleasure and voyeurism, transgression and punishment is similar to Two Chappies in a Box, The Gay Shoe Clerk , and other Edison comedies, suggesting both the popularity of this theme and the way repetition and slight, but clever, variation can be used to comic effect.

Anderson's contributions included the story idea for The Buster Brown Series , the first Edison "feature" to appear after The Great Train Robbery . Its seven scenes were taken in February and early March, except for Buster's Joke on Papa , which had been made and released as a separate short. These were listed as follows:

R. F. Outcault Making a Sketch of Buster and Tige

Buster's Revenge on the Tramp

Buster and the Dude

Buster Cleans a Bargain Counter

Buster's Joke on Papa

Tige to the Rescue

Buster and the Balloon Vender.[94]

This comedy was made with the assistance of the comic strip's creator, Richard F. Outcault, who had worked for Edison as a draftsman and made some early



Outcault sketches for Porter's camera; the bargain counter shortly before Buster and Tige arrive.

sketches of the Black Maria before becoming a cartoonist. Eager to help his nephew Will Rising, who sometimes worked at the Edison studio as an actor, Outcault appeared in a scene making a lightning sketch of his cartoon characters. The cartoonist had sold the theatrical rights for his Buster Brown characters, however, and a musical based on the comic strip was then being previewed out of town.[95] Outcault's enthusiastic participation in the Edison film was halted when Mellville B. Raymond, who owned the theatrical rights, threatened to sue the sketch artist for violation of his contract. As a result, Outcault tried to get the film off the market and finally sued Waters and the Edison Company in the U.S. circuit court.[96] Edison sought to ease Outcault's embarrassment by delaying the picture's distribution; in mid May, however, the Buster Brown films were put on the market.[97]

The legal paperwork for the Outcault case reveals much about the production of The Buster Brown Series . A memo for Porter's deposition describes the film's evolution and suggests the ways in which their collaborative working method functioned (see document no. 15). Anderson suggested the original idea. Norman Mosher brought in "Mannie," the trained dog, and a group of scenes was made. Actor Will Rising, trying to better his position, suggested filming his uncle, the cartoonist. The picture evolved casually, through the collective effort of the studio staff. Porter may have supervised and shaped the process, but clearly he tended to think and operate in nonhierarchical terms.

Each scene in The Buster Brown Series was conceived separately and treated as the analogue of a cartoon strip. Each had its own title. Although, as was done with Buster's Joke on Papa , scenes could have been sold separately as shorts, The Buster Brown Series was offered for sale "in one length only." Yet unlike Jack and the Beanstalk or any of Porter's previous "feature"-length films, The Buster Brown Series lacks the narrative development and complexity that previously justified the producer's control of the editing process. In constructing his



The once successful actor, undone by alcohol and down on his luck, works for the Edison Company.



The comic strip as storyboard.


subject, the studio manager assumed a responsibility that had once been the exhibitor's—as with the Happy Hooligan series of 1901-2.[98] Whereas the showman had formerly acquired individual scenes, Porter and his crew now created and combined these vignettes until the larger film contained the elements Porter desired. By 1904 the motion picture producer's editorial control had grown to the point where narrative continuity was no longer a necessary basis for his intervention. He now combined a series of potentially self-sufficient scenes that had only a main character in common. As with other Porter films, however, the influence of exhibitor-dominated cinema continued to be felt within the production house itself. The scene of Outcault doing his lightning sketch was placed at the head of the film when it was first released, but by 1906 it had been moved to the end.[99] This casual rearrangement of scenes reflected the influence of Porter's experiences as a showman in the 1890s.


Memo for Affidavit of Mr. Porter

The idea first originated by a man named [G.M.] Anderson suggesting a scene of a boy stealing jam (Buster not thought of). Then Mosier [Norman Mosher] came along with a trained dog; assembled boy and dog into jam scene. This led up to assembling a series of these pictures on different subjects. Dyer was consulted to see if there was any infringement in this. Advised later by Dyer that no infringement was made and they could even use the title. Porter had carefully abstained from copying any of the original "Buster Brown" cartoons in his subjects. About five subjects in the series up to that time. Some time the latter part of February or first of May [sic ; it was March], Rising said to Porter, "Dick Outcault is a nephew of mine, and I think I could get his permission to use the name 'Buster Brown' (This idea had never occurred to Porter before this time). I stated to Rising, 'All right' and that if he could secure permission from Outcault to use the title, I would make it worth his while. I gave him money to go to Flushing to pay car fare and expenses. Rising, I think went over that afternoon or the following day, returning with the letter of March 2nd from Outcault, and said everything was all right." This is the only letter Porter had ever received from Outcault. Porter knows writing to be Outcault's because he has compared it with Outcault's signature on his cartoons.

"I told Rising I was very anxious to wind up a series of pictures and that waiting until the following Monday or Tuesday would delay getting them out and I suggested that I go to Flushing, take my camera and take the picture of Outcault making a sketch of 'Buster Brown,' Outcault himself having suggested that he pose for that, as stated by Rising."

(Text box continued on next page)


Within a day or two Rising and Porter went over to Outcault's house and found he was very busy. "We had quite a chat with him in general and he spoke of the 'Buster Brown' show and Raymond, and that there was my first knowledge that there was a 'Buster Brown' show in existence. He spoke of the business they were doing, and during our conversation he said the great trouble with the show was there was not enough 'Buster' in it to please the children and ladies; that the success of the 'Foxy Grandpa' show was that it was confined to the boys and grandpa. He mentioned at the time a vaudeville turn that they used in the play, the six Cuttys; that they were paying $600 a week for, and it had no bearing on the 'Buster Brown' show. I suggested why wouldn't it be a good idea if the pictures were a success to have Mr. Raymond put a machine on showing 'Buster Brown.' He thought it was a very good idea and said he would suggest it to Mr. Raymond. He then said, 'I am very busy, there is a gentleman upstairs for whom I am making a sketch' and he suggested that I come up with him and wait for Rising who was talking to some member of the family; Outcault said he could not pose for us that day, but when Rising returned he said, 'Now, I have an engagement with Pach, the photographer on Broadway, to pose for a picture on Sunday morning; why can't I kill two birds with one stone and stop in your place Sunday?' The following Sunday he came there and posed for the picture. After securing his sanction for using the title, we thought it would be a good idea to put in one more scene, one of his own, the Bargain Counter. This is the reason the 'Bargain Counter' scene was added. At this time and at other times there were conversations with Outcault in which it was thoroughly understood that defendants were going to market these goods as they saw fit."

"In talking about Rising on the day we called at Outcault's home, he said, 'Will is in hard luck' and that he was merely doing this for Will's benefit; that anything Will got out of it he would be satisfied with." Outcault made practically the same statement when he called on Mr. Waters. After the receipt of the first Sanger letter by the Edison Company, Outcault called at Waters office and Porter was present, and Outcault made, in effect, the same statement that he did this solely for Rising's benefit in the hope that he might get some benefit out of it. Only the three named were present at that time.

SOURCE : Edwin S. Porter, memo for affidavit of Mr. Porter, n.d. [May 1904], NjWOE. Outcault's letter, addressed to "Mr. Ed Porter, Manager Kinetograph Co.," informed him: "You have my permission to use Buster Brown on the machine-and I will be in early next week and pose for you in the act of drawing Buster if you like" (R. F. Outcault, March 2, 1904, NjWOE).



Skirmish Between Russian and Japanese
 Advance Guards, reenacting Bio-graph's
 reenactment, The Battle of the Yalu.

The Russo-Japanese War

War films had proven their popularity almost from the beginnings of cinema. When the confrontation between Russia and Japan in the Far East became the Russo-Japanese War in February 1904, film companies happily seized the opportunity. Although the Charles Urban Trading Company in England sent cameramen to cover the war, Edison and other American producers were content to film mock battles in New York and New Jersey based on dispatches from the front. The Biograph Company scored the first success with The Battle of the Yalu , photographed in Syracuse, New York, on March 16th and 17th. It was "running at all the leading Vaudeville Houses. Cheered by Audiences from start to finish."[100] The Edison Company was sufficiently impressed to remake the film for its own commercial purposes in Forest Hill, New Jersey. On Saturday, April 2d, Porter photographed Skirmish Between Russian and Japanese Advance Guards using members of the local National Guard. The result was a four-shot picture, with each scene prefaced by a simple title ("Japanese Outpost on the Yalu River," "The Attack," etc.).

Porter quickly followed Skirmish Between Russian and Japanese Advance Guards with Battle of Chemulpo Bay , taken on April 8, 1904. It was based on an actual incident, which had taken place in February:

BATTLE OF CHEMULPO BAY . This picture shows the crew of a Japanese Man-of-War working a gun during the engagement of Chemulpo Bay. The Russian cruiser "Variag" and gunboat "Korietz" are shown coming from the port. Immediately they are attacked by the Japanese fleet and after sustaining much damage from the enemy's guns, both are seen to sink before reaching the bay. 150 feet.[101]

The film was shot in the Edison studio; the battleship set, with its extreme foreshortening, was similar in construction to the one Porter had used in the first scenes of Sampson-Schley Controversy . This picture is more elaborate, however, for Porter cuts from an establishing view of activities on the deck to a masked point-of-view shot—as if taken from the binoculars of the officer on deck—of the Russian flag being hit by the Japanese gunfire. To one knowledgeable ob-


server, the film recalled the miniature warships then being exhibited at the St. Louis Exposition.[102] It was extremely popular, selling 109 copies during 1904-5, as compared to 56 copies of Skirmish Between Russian and Japanese Advance Guards and 34 copies of The Buster Brown Series .

To help meet the demand for Russo-Japanese war films while avoiding any undue expense, the Kinetograph Department also duped English news films and purchased a group of travel films taken in Russia, China, and Japan from Thomas Armat—which he had acquired previously from Burton Holmes.[103] Edison was offering its customers a mixture of studio creations, comparatively realistic reenactments using American military personnel, and scenes actually filmed in the belligerent countries. This disparate array of mimetic techniques reflected the way many American newspapers, notably Hearst's New York Journal , covered the war.[104]

Dupes, Remakes, Copycatting, and Cheap Productions

During the spring and summer of 1904, the Kinetograph Department avoided production of narrative "features," just when such activities were increasing at other studios. Duping foreign subjects not covered by copyright continued to be viewed as a less expensive and surer way to provide customers with dramatic headliners. When, as sometimes happened, an American competitor put out a popular film protected by copyright, Porter was asked to imitate it. Whatever the reasons—objective business analyses of costs and sales, changes in management, disorganization, complacency, or Porter's lack of a collaborator—the Kinetograph Department became inordinately derivative.

Porter and his associates turned out a mixture of short comedies, human interest films, and news topicals. Dog Factory , photographed in the studio on April 15th, was a simple variation on the often used circus gag (filmed by Lumière and others) in which dogs were turned into sausages. Porter gave the gag a new twist: sausages were turned into dogs. The subject sold forty-two prints during the 1904 business year. The following week Porter remade Biograph's A Farmer Who Can't Let Go (shot May 3, 1900):


Several farmers are discussing politics in a country store. A bunco man enters and takes an electric battery from a bag. He induces the Rubes to join hands and take hold of the handles. The current is turned on and they go through some very funny stunts, while the bunco man goes through their pockets, taps the till, and makes a hasty exit. 160 feet.[105]

Here a swindler uses modern, urban technology to outwit naive farmers. In this simple variation on the rube's visit to the large city, the countryside is now


invaded by dynamic and dangerous modernity. The subject, however, sold only a dozen prints during 1904.

One comedy, to which Terry Ramsaye has devoted much printer's ink,[106] was commissioned by Lew Dockstader for his minstrel show. Never intended for the Edison catalog, it was neither copyrighted nor appears in records at the Edison National Historic Site. Our knowledge is based on the fortuitous: something went wrong. Dockstader's short film, shot in Washington on the morning of May 19, 1904, was to be inserted into his show, following a scene in which a black-faced minstrel surveyed the countryside from a balloon and made amusing observations. At a crucial moment Dockstader was to fall out of the balloon, and the film would begin with him, in minstrel shoes and outfit, sprawled on the Capitol steps. One witness to the event explained,

I saw this made-up negro walk off and chalk a place on the asphalt, within range of the camera, I suppose, then fall down. Up drives the other carriage and the fellow dressed as the President steps out, and with his coachman lifts Mr. Negro into the carriage. There is a great deal of bowing and hat tipping, and the exchanging of cigars, and of course the picture machine kept on taking it in. The act was done over, so as to make sure, I suppose.[107]

The event created grave concern and front-page news in New York and Washington. Roosevelt, who was facing reelection, had recently had lunch with Booker T. Washington at the White House, to the distress of southern whites. Many were concerned that Dockstader's film would be used to exploit the incident for political purposes.[108] Washington police looked for laws under which they might arrest the minstrel man. Investigators were sent to New York, where they confronted Porter and demanded the film be turned over. Porter handed them a roll, which the law officers promptly exposed to the light. While the police believed that they destroyed the undeveloped negative, the ruined film was actually a blank: the subject was saved until Edwin Porter's personal archive burned in a fire at the Famous Players' studio ten years later.[109]

A week after the Dockstader escapade and ten days after Coney Island's Luna Park opened for the summer season, Porter photographed Elephants Shooting the Chutes at Luna Park , showing a new amusement considered by many to be "more wonderful than any of the other new features at Coney Island from a spectacular standpoint."[110] The subject may have been extraordinary, but Porter had taken that type of film many times before. On May 28th he shot Inter-Collegiate Athletic Association Championships, 1904 in Philadelphia with A. C. Abadie. Intertitles were used to introduce the various track and field events. This and Inter-Collegiate RegattaPoughkeepsie, New York, 1904 , which he filmed alone between June 25th and 28th, attracted little interest, selling only two copies each.

Abadie, who had been inactive during the winter, resumed work in early May


Table 2.
Edison Film Production, March-July 1904

Subject type

Number in category

Negative feet

Print feet

Print to neg. ratioa


40 (82%)

5,045 (68%)

42,915 (38%)



9 (18%)

2,335 (32%)

69,560 (62%)







a Includes only sales of prints for the 1904 business year (March 1, 1904, to February 29, 1905).

by taking a series of scenes at the 101 Ranch in Bliss, Oklahoma Territory. Acts seen in Wild West shows were filmed in natural surroundings. Bucking Broncos sold almost fifty prints over the next two years. Other films, such as Brush Between Cowboys and Indians , did not sell nearly as well. During July he filmed topicals including Pollywogs, 71st Regiment, N.G.S.N.Y., Initiating Raw Recruits in Peekskill, New York, and Parade, Mystic Shriners, Atlantic City, New Jersey . These were hardly novel additions to the Edison catalog.

In August 1904 Porter filmed Fire and Flames at Luna Park, Coney Island , a simple one-shot film of the spectacle "Fire and Flames." Biograph had earlier photographed a similar spectacle at a rival amusement park, Dreamland. Of the two, Biograph's Fighting the FlamesDreamland is the more elaborate.[111] Porter's film did little more than meet the requirements of Edison executives, who saw the film as an effective means of competition. Despite its limitations, the Edison film sold thirty-six copies over the next two years.

The composition and distribution of Edison productions for the March—July 1904 period can be analyzed using a surviving survey of Edison film sales during the years 1904-6. The data are given in table 2. Two features (The Buster Brown Series and Skirmish Between Russian and Japanese Advance Guards ) sold 45,595 feet struck from 1,275 feet of negative, for a print/negative ratio of 35.8 to one. These two films, listed above in the staged/fiction category, were 4 percent of the listed subjects and 17 percent of the negative footage but accounted for over 40 percent of total film sales. This statistical analysis would be significantly altered if information about dupes was available. Such a revised analysis would reinforce what is already clear from the table: staged/fiction "headliners" were the most popular (and potentially profitable) types of productions.

By the summer of 1904, the Edison Company had abdicated its position as America's foremost motion picture producer to the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company. Biograph had recognized the importance of fiction headliners and had begun regular "feature" production by mid 1904. With Wallace McCutcheon acting as producer, Biograph's staff made Personal in June, The


Moonshiner in July, The Widow and the Only Man in August, The Hero of Liao Yang in September, and The Lost Child and The Suburbanite in October.[112] These headliners were all enthusiastically received by the vaudeville-going public. They were not offered for sale, however, but kept for exclusive use on the company's exhibition circuit. Biograph was perhaps the first company, certainly the first company in America, to make regular "feature" production the keystone of its business policy.

The French Threat: Pathé Enters the American Market

The commercial threat that Méliès posed when he entered the American market in June 1903 never fully materialized. The opening of Star Films headquarters in New York coincided with Edison's distribution of A Daring Daylight Burglary and the waning of Méliès' dominant position in the international film industry. In England, James White still had a wide assortment of European subjects he could send to the United States for duping. Of the thirty-four pictures listed in Edison's January 1904 catalog, nineteen were dupes. In the September 1904 catalog thirty-six of fifty-two were dupes. Many of these were dramatic headliners and many also were made by Pathé Frères of Paris. The Edison Company's attitude toward this underhanded business was articulated by lawyer Frank Dyer. "I understand that personally you are averse to the copying of our competitors' films," he wrote Gilmore, "but at the same time there must be a good profit in that business as it does away with making an original negative."[113]

This profitable state of affairs began to unravel in mid July 1904, when Gilmore received a letter from Pathé announcing its intention to open a New York branch:

For more than a year we have watched the methods employed by your company, who copy all our Films which they think interesting, in defiance of our rights of ownership.

We know that under the present laws of your country, aside from the special precautions we have taken, we are unable to legally put a stop to same, but as we are about to establish an agency in New York for the sale of our products, and we desire to come to some agreement with you, in order to avoid that in return we will not copy your Films.[114]

Pathé's request was considered unacceptable. To stop duping would be to curtail a profitable venture, and such an arrangement might also be construed as an informal licensing arrangement under Edison's patents. More to the point, the establishment of a branch office in New York City posed a threat to Edison's position in the American industry. Pathé, like the Edison Company, but unlike Méliès, supplied exhibitors with a wide variety of subjects. It was a modern


business organization, with substantial working capital and experience accumulated from its phonograph operations. As a film producer, Pathé was growing rapidly and establishing an international network of offices that fostered maximum distribution of its product.

Frank Dyer formulated a response to the French company's letter, suggesting

that possibly a desirable solution of the difficulty might be secured by calling Pathe's attention to our patent on the moving picture film (reissued Jan. 12, 1904, No. 12192), stating that this patent covers all film now in use, and that in the event of their establishing an agency in New York that they contemplate, we will promptly bring suit for infringement. The suggestion might then be made that we would make an agreement with them under which they would give us the option of copyrighting and duplicating their films in this country, paying them a royalty per foot on all films which might be duplicated . . . . The advantages of the arrangement suggested are that we would keep Pathe Freres out of this country and would be in a position to legitimately copy their films, which, I understand from Mr. Moore are of excellent quality. If the arrangement is not made, and Pathe Freres establish themselves in New York, we would encounter a more active competition on their part and would have to undergo the uncertainty of a suit against them on our patent.[115]

Pathé ignored Edison's warning and opened its branch office with Jacques A. Berst as manager. Making all its prints in Paris, the French concern began to supply its New York office before London. By the time White's purchases arrived in the United States, Pathé had filled much of the demand.[116] Films still considered worth duping were purchased in New York City by Edison's industrial spy, Joseph McCoy.[117] Visiting the Pathé office in November 1904 and using information provided by Berst, McCoy reported that "they opened up for business in this country about two months ago and they have had so much business that they have been unable to supply the demand for their films."[118] Pathé had not only established itself as a major competitor, but had undermined one of Edison's major profit strategies—the making of inexpensive dupes.

George Kleine and the Edison Company Go Separate Ways

Shortcomings in film production had serious commercial consequences for the Edison Manufacturing Company. It undermined a long-standing relationship with George Kleine, Edison's able Chicago selling agent, who had been responsible for approximately 30 percent of Edison's film sales.[119] Friction between Kleine and William Gilmore developed in February 1904 when West Orange allowed Biograph to acquire the exclusive concession for films of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.[120] Kleine, who already had the exposition concession for lantern slides, wanted to sell his slides in combination with motion pictures. In April he wrote Gilmore: "It is distasteful enough to me to be compelled to sell


films made by the Biograph people, but what else is left? I have spent time and money on this matter and will be compelled to sell World's Fair Films in connection with my slides; you will agree with me that it would be idiotic to throw away any advantages that may offer themselves."[121] Faced with the rise of Pathé and Biograph, Kleine began to distribute Biograph and original Pathé films (rather than Edison dupes) on a regular basis in August. Gilmore reacted angrily to Kleine's "betrayal." "Of course, as I told you when you were here, you are at perfect liberty to make any arrangement that you like with other manufacturers," he blustered, "but I cannot see how I can consistently continue to have all communications and inquiries sent to you, nor do I consider it wise or judicious that we should continue to permit you to advertise as the 'General Western Selling Agents' for our goods."[122] Kleine pleaded with Gilmore for a better understanding of his situation. Others simply filled the void, he explained, weakening his own commercial position. His company always favored the Edison trademark and sold only small quantities of rival makes. Kleine then concluded:

We have been so closely identified with the Edison Mfg. Co. for years, that any disturbance of our relations would affect the welfare of our concern seriously, and it would probably require a year or two for matters to readjust themselves. You see that I do not hesitate to admit it. There are certain obligations involved on both sides, considering the past. The advertising of which you complain was voluntary on my part, and not involved in any agreement. I can therefore drop it without disturbing the peace with others; or eating crow, which I hate.[123]

Gilmore, however, seemed determined to break with Kleine. One key issue was Kleine's refusal to distribute Edison dupes of Pathé films.[124] The disagreement came to a head at the end of September, when Gilmore revoked Kleine's special discount effective October 1, 1904. The Edison organization quickly set up a Chicago office under John Hardin, who had entered the industry in 1898 as motion picture department manager of Montgomery Ward, then a Chicago-based mail-order house.[125] Kleine sent out a form letter to his customers explaining the break.[126] A few days later Kleine publicly blasted Edison's duping policy. His advertisement began by noting: "There are various kinds of 'Dupes.' The dictionary describes one kind as a 'Victim of deception.' "Urging customers not to be duped, the manufacturer concluded: "In no case will 'Dupes' be delivered to our customers when the original can be obtained. In some instances the originals can be purchased at the same prices as the 'Dupes' in others at a slightly advanced price."[127] Kleine's position pleased European producers, and he was gradually to become the U.S. representative for many English and French firms. His stand further dramatized the Kinetograph Department's weaknesses, the bankruptcy of its duping policy, the increased competition from Pathé and Biograph, and the need for Edison to expand its production of headliners.


Edison Versus Biograph: the Remaking of Personal

Remaking a popular American film was the counterpart to duping foreign productions. Since 1896 the Kinetograph Department had intermittently pursued this practice. Now, in August and September, it remade Biograph's two biggest hits: Personal , which was retitled How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the New York Herald Personal Columns (photographed August 1904) and The Escaped Lunatic , which became Maniac Chase (September 1904). Culminating with these two features, the Kinetograph Department's legal piracy destroyed Biograph's structure of exhibition and sales. Ironically, it was precisely this two-tiered structure, of initial distribution on Biograph's circuit and subsequent sales to non-Biograph exhibitors, that made these remakes so profitable for Edison.

Waters' Kinetograph Company, American Vitagraph, and Biograph were locked in a business struggle for domination of vaudeville exhibition in the east. All three companies had exclusive films for their circuits. While Biograph generally withheld its films from independent exhibitors long after (in some cases nine months after) their first appearance on its programs, Percival Waters had no such advantage. Although occasionally commissioning a specific subject, Waters usually had to make do with the first Edison print to be sold. His exclusives varied from several days to two weeks.[128] To compensate, Waters began to rent films to theaters and train their electricians to run a projector (which Waters was happy to sell them). He could rent a reel of film for approximately $25 a week, while the Biograph and Vitagraph services, which still included a projector and operator, were almost twice as expensive. The reel of film had become the commodity.[129] The Kinetograph Company was no longer an exhibition service but a renter, a distributor. Waters' money-saving offer, however, was not adequate inducement for many vaudeville managers to switch suppliers: they wanted first-run hits like Biograph's Personal .

Personal is a comedy about a Frenchman who tries to arrange a rendezvous at Grant's Tomb with prospective American brides by placing an ad in the New York Herald's personal column. Besieged by a large crowd of American working-class women, he panics and makes his escape. The chase scenes that follow are essentially the same: the Frenchman runs toward and past the camera with the women in pursuit. Variation in each scene is created by a different obstacle the pursuers have to overcome—a stream, a fence, a ditch, and so forth. The denouement comes with the European hiding in the bushes, only to be discovered by a "determined Diana" with a gun.[130] The film's none too subtle lampooning of the fashionable marriages between impoverished European noblemen and the daughters of rich Americans accounted for its immense popularity.

After Waters tried unsuccessfully to purchase a copy of Personal , he induced


the Edison Company to make a comparable version. For Waters the business maneuver had its desired effect: Biograph, which promoted Personal as an exclusive, was embarrassed. According to Waters: "Keith opened a theatre in Cleveland and used the Biograph film as one of his principal attractions and advertised that no one else could exhibit this film, but a rival theatre got one of the Edison films and exhibited it much to Keith's chagrin. Keith evidently went to the Biograph Company and raised a rumpus."[131] In July of the following year, Keith's circuit permanently abandoned Biograph for the Kinetograph Company.[132] Biograph's exhibition circuit did not survive the blow.

The Edison Company made a handsome profit on its remake. How a French Nobleman. . . was on the market before the original Biograph production and, according to Waters, exhibitors often considered Porter's film superior.[133] In the end, How a French Nobleman. . . was the most successful Edison headliner in 1904, selling eighty-five complete prints during 1904-5. The eventual addition of the Keith circuit to Waters' list of customers also meant the Kinetograph Company was in a position to buy more Edison films in the future.

The Edison remake forced Biograph to put Personal on the market at a reduced price. To recoup its losses and prevent similar remakes in the future, the company also initiated a suit for copyright infringement against the Edison Co. and claimed damages of $3,000.[134] Edison lawyers defended the legality of the remake on several levels. First they pointed out that their client had not made a dupe and so had not violated the copyright in a narrow sense. Second, they argued that a photograph's content was not copyrightable and that Biograph had failed to copyright its pantomime as a dramatic production, placing the story in the public domain. (After the court case, Biograph would copyright its productions twice—as photographs and as dramas.) Looking for a loophole, Edison lawyers also argued that Personal had been photographed from several different camera positions and on several different strips of film; therefore, Biograph's single copyright offered inadequate protection for what were in fact several different series of photographs.[135] If the court had accepted this argument, it would have invalidated most of Edison's copyrights as well. As a precaution, the inventor thus started to copyright new productions one scene at a time.[136]

Edison lawyers also suggested that the idea for the film had come from a comic strip. An actress working at both Biograph and Edison had seen a copy of such a strip lying on the desk of Biograph's production chief, Wallace McCutcheon. "We have not as yet been able to get any clue as to the comic paper from which the idea was obtained by McCutcheon," wrote Delos Holden to Edison's lawyer Melville Church, "but this may not matter much as I shall endeavor to make the statement in the Porter affidavit so positive as to throw the burden on the defendant to produce the publication."[137] According to Edison lawyers, the question was over two different interpretations of a story



Porter's remake of Personal. In a new opening scene, his French nobleman 
preens for the mirror. For the next, the filmmaker used the same location as 
Biograph—Grant's Tomb—as women pursue their male quarry.

that did not originate with either party. Therefore, they slanted Porter's deposition to emphasize the artistic differences between the two productions.[138] Although several of these arguments were ignored by the judge, Edison won the case in the lower courts and again on appeal because Biograph had failed to copyright the film as a dramatic production. When the Kinetograph Department followed How a French Nobleman. . . with Maniac Chase , Edison's rival finally recognized that it would have to offer its films for sale soon after they were first shown.

By mid October 1904 Edison's policy of duping and remaking the films of his competitors was no longer profitable. His company had to take the risk of investing in original productions, and its output for the second half of its 1904 business year reflected the demand for "feature" story films and acknowledged increasing competition from Biograph and Pathé. Edison sales records for the August 1904-February 1905 period yield the statistics in table 3. The commercial importance of staged/acted films is obvious (even exaggerated in this instance, since there were no major news films to boost actuality sales). Feature

Table 3.
Edison Film Production, August 1904-February 1905

Subject type

Number in category

Negative feet

Print feet

Print to neg. ratio


8 (38%)

1,525 (16%)

7,610 (3%)



13 (62%)

7,790 (84%)

214,705 (97%)








Table 4.
Edison Film Production, 1904-1906

March 1904-February 1905

Subject type

Number in category

Negative feet

Print feet

Print to neg. ratio


48 (69%)

6,570 (39%)

50,525 (15%)



22 (31%)

10,125 (61%)

284,265 (85%)







March 1905-December 1905

Subject type

Number in category

Negative feet

Print feet

Print to neg. ratio


21 (48%)

6,940 (36%)

60,580 (14%)



22 (52%)

12,382 (64%)

365,060 (86%)







February 1906-February 1907

Subject type

Number in category

Negative feet

Print feet

Print to neg. ratio


49 (80%)

7,715 (47%)

118,438 (14%)



12 (20%)

8,750 (53%)

741,490 (86%)







acted films had become the Kinetograph Department's principal source of income. A statistical analysis for the 1904-6 period shows a steady relationship between actuality and fiction films in terms of negative production and prints sold (see table 4).

Film historians have tried to pinpoint the moment when narrative acted "features" of approximately 500 to 1,000 feet in length began to dominate the cinema. Robert C. Allen, for instance, has located the shift in 1907 and ties it to the need for greater control over the rate of production. He argues that "the spurt in narrative film production cannot be attributed to a sudden drop in public interest in the documentary film," but occurred despite it.[139] Allen and others have relied on raw quantitative data of titles copyrighted to reach this


conclusion. This methodological approach has a fundamental weakness, which tables 3 and 4 demonstrate. Quantification by subject titles offers little insight into what spectators are likely to be watching. Furthermore, during 1905 and 1906, the bulk of print sales for actualities came from three major news events: Roosevelt's inauguration, the Russo-Japanese Peace Conference, and the San Francisco earthquake. In many cases, no prints of an actuality subject were sold. Except for a few comparatively rare events of national import, the public had generally lost interest in nonfiction subjects.[140]

From the summer of 1904 onward, acted headliners were made in substantial quantities and consistently outsold actualities. Excepting occasional "hits," actuality material continued to be manufactured primarily because (1) local news footage was desired by vaudeville houses renting films from the Kinetograph Company and it was considered expedient to accommodate them; and (2) such films were so inexpensive to make that a small profit could be gained on a local subject if two or more prints were sold. The shift to acted "features" was not, as Allen has suggested, a result of the nickelodeon era but a precondition for it. Significantly, story films became the dominant industry product just as the rental of films was replacing the letting of an exhibition service to the theaters. Both were key preconditions for the nickelodeon era.

The Legacy of Exhibitor-Dominated Cinema

Although Porter was manager of the Edison studio and a successful filmmaker, he continued to project films at Edison charities and other special occasions.[141] This residual role was manifested on another level: the legacy of exhibitor-dominated cinema continued to influence the methods of production and representation inside the Edison Manufacturing Company. Tension continued to exist between the shot and the complete subject as the basic unit of film production, although the larger unit was primary in an increasing number of instances.

The rapid shift in responsibility for exhibition from distributor to theater further reinforced the decline of the exhibitor's editorial role. Editorial control was centralized principally in the production companies, while exchanges purchased predominantly longer subjects and programmed them with a few additional shorts to fill a 1,000-foot reel. While exchanges and most exhibitors were happy to purchase How a French Nobleman. . . in its entirety, the Edison firm also offered prospective purchasers the opportunity to buy individual scenes. In 1905 showmen purchased four shots of the premise-establishing scene at Grant's Tomb, five of the denouement, and fewer copies (one, two, or three) of the chase scenes—indicating that a few exhibitors, even in 1905, were still resisting the trend toward standardization and editorial control by the production companies.[142] Although showmen bought the entire film in the vast majority of cases, the How a French Nobleman. . . narrative was constructed in such a way



Spoofing the travelogue: European Rest Cure.

that the film could be expanded or contracted by the simple addition or elimination of chase scenes. Such a structure continued earlier methods of filmic organization.[143]

The legacy of exhibitor-dominated cinema also affected the making of European Rest Cure . Begun in July 1904, but not copyrighted until September 1st, European Rest Cure was an elaborately produced film with many studio sets. This spoof on the travelogue follows an American tourist across Europe and the Middle East on a "rest cure" in which one physically or emotionally wrenching disaster follows another. Foreign locales were actually pasteboard sets of pyramids, Roman ruins, and a French cafe, while additional scenes were shot at the docks as the tourist leaves and returns. Porter combined this original material with footage of S.S. "Coptic" Running Against the Storm , taken by James White on his Pacific voyage in 1898, and Pilot Leaving "Prinzessen Victoria Luise" at Sandy Hook , taken by White in late 1902. Another shot was excerpted from Sky Scrapers of New York from the North River , which James Smith had filmed in May 1903. The short films incorporated into this longer feature could still be purchased individually: one or two were used by Lyman Howe for a program he assembled, Detailed Scenes of a Trans-Atlantic Voyage from New York to Southampton .[144]

As with A Romance of the Rail, European Rest Cure evolved out of the travel genre and was part of the shift toward filming dramatic material. Once again, Porter took a "documentary" genre and reworked it as a comedy "feature" with a character other than the narrator/tour director to act as a unifying element. The film parodies the format of many nineteenth-century travel lectures, which used materials from different sources and combined scenes taken on location with others photographed in the comfort and artifice of the studio. Fun is poked at the romantic aura of travel perpetuated by exhibitors who



Capture of "Yegg" Bank Burglars: the "Yeggs" shoot it out and escape across a lake.

were themselves often beholden to railroad and shipping companies. As before, Porter was working effectively within a well-established genre. In this case, however, the continuing popularity of the traditional form may have created audience resistance to the spoof and resulted in modest sales, for the title sold only twenty-three prints in the year and a half after its release.

Following European Rest Cure , Porter worked on Capture of "Yegg" Bank Burglars , another production in which the exhibitor's former editorial role remains apparent. Filmed between August l5th and September 10th, this headliner was motivated by Lubin's The Bold Bank Robbery , first advertised in the New York Clipper on August 13th. Thus it continued the pattern of imitating other companies' successes.[145] Porter's film reenacted "the Criminal life and methods of the 'Hobo' Bank, Vault and Safe Burglar as described in paper read by William A. Pinkerton of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency before the Annual Convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, St. Louis, MO.; June 6 to 11, 1904."[146] Using the speech as a foundation, along with additional information and suggestions by Robert A. Pinkerton and G. S. Doherty of the Pinkerton agency, Porter produced a film within the crime genre he had first explored with The Great Train Robbery . Compared to the earlier film, Porter simplified the narrative construction and generally avoided the problematic returning to earlier points in time and the shifting back and forth between different lines of action.[147] At the same time, additional elements were added: the robbery is planned and scouted before it is put into action, and the chase elaborated.

There are two different versions of Capture of "Yegg" Bank Burglars , however. The first survives in the Library of Congress Paper Print Collection. On August 27th, Porter and Abadie (in his last documented appearance as an Edison cameraman) filmed Railroad Smash-up outside of Boston. While this human-interest news film of a planned train collision was soon released as a separate subject, Porter also used it to end his bank burglary film in a spectac-



Parsifal: Sets came from a theatrical production, 
but the film was intended to be accompanied by a lecture.

ular fashion. In a transitional scene, the burglars were shown mounting a locomotive and making good their escape. The next scene is the smash-up shot at Revere Branch, Massachusetts. The camera pans with a quickly moving locomotive, which collides with one coming from the other direction. As with European Rest Cure , actuality footage was put into a narrative context and given a new meaning.

The second version, the one eventually advertised in the Edison catalog, replaced the train collision and transitional scene with four scenes copyrighted separately as Rounding up the Yeggmen . They showed the burglars' capture by undercover police agents. Although the Library of Congress ending is more spectacular, its radical departure from Pinkerton's speech may have been unacceptable. Nevertheless, some prints of the earlier version were almost certainly sold.[148] It seems possible that some customers had a choice of endings. The integration of news material into a dramatic subject, the use of different endings: these syncretic procedures were influenced by Porter's experiences as an exhibitor.

Porter's next film was copyrighted as Nervy Nat Kisses the Bride , then sold as "Weary Willie" Kisses the Bride .[149] In this three-shot comedy, which recalls Porter's What Happened in the Tunnel , a tramp takes advantage of a spat between bride and groom to sneak a kiss—and be thrown off the train for his efforts. Set in a train station, inside a train, and on the tracks, this film could either be integrated by the exhibitor into a program of railway scenes or shown in a variety format. Here the exhibitor's editorial role was still implicitly acknowledged.


In early October, after making Maniac Chase , Porter ventured to Brooklyn for the filming of Parsifal . "Specifically posed and rehearsed," it had the


"identical talent, scenery, and costumes used in the Original Dramatic Production."[150] Although the play was condensed and Porter resorted to stop-action photography in a few instances, restaging appears minimal. Each scene was a single shot taken by a distant camera that took in the entire set and made the actors small in the frame. Frontal compositions preserved the feeling of a proscenium arch. Looked at silently without a detailed knowledge of the story, the film is and was unintelligible: it was sold with a lecture and treated as a "sacred" film similar to The Passion Play of Oberammergau . A Kleine catalog, listing Parsifal with its other religious films, observed that "some critics have objected to its pagan elements but these serve to bring out the purity and splendor of the Christian Faith."[151] Certainly its static style and dearth of entertaining features made it appropriate for the holy day. Robert Whittier, who played the role of Parsifal, subsequently used the films as part of an illustrated lecture entitled Wagner from Within and Without .[152]

The opening of Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera House on Christmas Eve 1903 was preceded by much controversy, as Wagner's widow went to court in a vain attempt to stop the performance. Its debut was reported on the front pages of New York newspapers. According to the New York World , "It was elevating and inspiring beyond words to express, but it was not entertaining."[153] A dramatic version followed in which "Mr. Payton in Brooklyn merely put the Corder translation of Wagner's libretto on the stage, with scenery as near like Mr. Conreid's [producer of the Metropolitan Opera House version] as he could afford to make."[154] This would appear to be "the original dramatic version" for another, by Marion Doran, appeared at the West End Theater in May 1904.

On March 1, 1904, Harley Merry acquired the motion picture rights for the dramatic version from Chase and Kennington:

In consideration of Harley Merry having loaned us the sum of Eighteen Hundred dollars ($1800) receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, we hereby give said Harley Merry the sole rights to negotiate with whomsoever he may desire to produce in moving pictures etc. our play "Parsifal," said Harley Merry to have and to hold all the profits arising from the same.

We also agree to give said Harley Merry our aid and that of our company at all times, and in every possible manner, to produce said moving pictures.[155]

With Porter actively involved, a contract was signed between the Edison Manufacturing Company and the Merry Scenic Construction Company on June 9th: it gave Merry a royalty of 2¢ per foot on every print sold. The film was shot four months later and totaled the extraordinary length of 1,975 feet (approximately thirty minutes). To accommodate the royalty without reducing Edison's profit margin, the film was sold for 17¢ per foot: one complete print cost $335,


of which $39.50 went to Merry. Parsifal was elaborately advertised with several full-page ads in the New York Clipper , but sales were modest. The Kinetograph Department informed Merry that it had sold five prints of the film as of November 30th and another print in December—yielding a royalty of $237.[156] Other records indicate that sixteen prints were sold by February 1905, suggesting that Merry may not have received a full accounting.[157] Whatever the figure, Parsifal was a financial disappointment given Edison's expensive promotional campaign.

Porter made four additional films in October 1904: all sold comparatively few prints. In midmonth, he visited the state fair in Danbury, Connecticut, where he shot A Rube Couple at a County Fair (seven copies sold in 1904-5) and Miss Lillian Schaffer and Her Dancing Horse (five copies sold). Returning to New York, he produced a topical comedy to herald the opening of the city's subway system: City Hall to Harlem in 15 Seconds via the Subway Route (twenty-five copies sold), which showed "Casey's first trip through the Subway. Rapid Transit no longer a dream."[158] Casey's trip was hastened by an explosion that sent him hurtling through the tunnel at a much faster speed than the average traveler's: the new subway system only boasted that it could get one from City Hall to Harlem in 15 minutes . Shortly thereafter, Porter and his new assistant William Gilroy photographed Opening Ceremonies, New York Subway, October 27, 1904 ; it was quickly developed and sent to Percival Waters by special messenger so that it could play at Huber's Museum. A news film of local interest, it sold only six prints.

During the first ten months of 1904, the Edison Company had relied heavily on dupes even as it produced four imitations of Biograph subjects and a fifth inspired by a Lubin "feature." One picture was ersatz theater and another cribbed from a comic strip. Three films recycled footage. While Edison-produced headliners increased in quantity after mid August, they did not do so in originality.[159] The resulting erosion of Edison's commercial standing was reflected in a letter that William Gilmore sent to Frank Dyer. After complaining about the progress being made in several patent suits against Biograph and Lubin, the general manager remarked:

The competition that we have to meet in this line of business, not only on the part of these people but particularly on the part of a lot of small operators, is becoming so great that I feel that some action must be taken in these cases at once. Selig is becoming very active in the West, and from such information as I have been able to gather he is evidently backed up by a lot of small dealers, and the character of the work that he turns out is bad in the extreme. On the other hand, the Mutoscope Company does not seem to hesitate to do everything they can to hurt the trade in general, and the only way I can see to get it on some sort of satisfactory basis is by pushing the suits and endeavoring to obtain a decision either one way or the other.[160]


Gilmore, however, was not foolish enough to rely solely on a possible legal solution. He finally recognized that Edison had to produce its own "original" productions if the Kinetograph Department was to attract customers in large numbers. As a result, Porter was given new resources, additional staff, and considerable discretion in his choice of subject matter and production methods.


Articulating an Old-Middle-Class Ideology: 1904-1905

Late in 1904 the Edison Manufacturing Company began to produce films closely tied to trends in American popular and mass culture, but they seldom followed in the immediate paths of rivals. This commitment to the risks and rewards of producing original narrative "features" coincided with the hiring of William J. Gilroy in late October. Gilroy, who had worked intermittently for the Kinetograph Department since at least September 1902, served as Porter's trusted assistant and received $15 per week.[1] In mid January 1905, moreover, the Kinetograph Department hired Robert K. Bonine, who had worked for Edison in the late 1890s and then for Biograph in the early 1900s. Replacing Jacob B. Smith, who had left two weeks earlier, he received $35 per week—the same salary as Porter. While Bonine was in charge of the Edison film development facilities at the Orange Laboratory, he took a significant number of actualities during the two and a half years of his Edison employment, beginning with President Roosevelt's Inauguration on March 4th.

The Edison staff was further strengthened by a talent raid on the Biograph Company. A. E. Weed, an experienced Biograph cameraman, and Wallace McCutcheon, the Biograph production chief, joined Edison in mid May. Weed, probably a replacement for A. C. Abadie, was paid $18 per week. Drills and ExercisesSchoolship "St. Mary's, " shot on May 31st, was his first official production. Hiring Wallace McCutcheon, the producer of Personal and other Biograph hits, was a major coup. McCutcheon perhaps expected to start another production unit for fiction films, but he found himself acting as Porter's chief collaborator. Since the new co-producer/co-director garnered a $40 per week salary, Porter's income had to be raised to the same figure. Both men


received the same pay for the next two years—suggesting the equality of their professional relationship. (How these two leading American filmmakers collaborated will be considered in the following chapter.) This talent raid both hurt Biograph and helped Edison. The revitalization of production did not wait for McCutcheon's arrival, however, but began with The Ex-Convict (November 1904). In the six months until McCutcheon's arrival, actor Will Rising may have worked most closely with Porter.

American Themes and Values: Family and Society

Historians since Terry Ramsaye have remarked on Porter's articulation of social problems in The Ex-Convict and The Kleptomaniac (January 1905).[2] These two features were part of a larger group of films, made between November 1904 and December 1905, that directly and indirectly confronted significant social issues in American life. Despite a shift away from actualities, Porter continued to conceive of cinema as a form that could inform and instruct as well as entertain. His films were still linked, albeit less directly, to the concept of a visual newspaper, for he focused on problems raised in the antitrust editorials and political cartoons of the New York Journal-American and the New York World . These pictures, which represented one of several ideological positions evident in American popular and mass culture, were the most ambitious cinematic expressions from this period.

Although several Porter/Edison films, if viewed separately, are ideologically consistent with then emerging trends of Progressive thought, as a body of work they express the often contradictory worldview of the old middle class and small-town America confronted with an era of large-scale manufacturing and monopoly capital.[3] In short, these films remained consistent with Porter's own experience of America while growing up in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, and with a viewpoint expressed twenty years earlier in his hometown newspaper, The Keystone Courier .

The Ex-Convict , advertised as "a beautiful pathetic story in Eight scenes,"[4] quickly and simply depicts a former criminal who is forced to return to a life of crime because he cannot escape the stigma of his past. A member of the working class, he is sympathetically portrayed as a good family man driven to despair by the plight of his sick child. Dismissed from his job because of his past, the ex-convict cannot find work and is soon forced to return to a life of crime. He tries to rob a wealthy home but is caught and seems certain to return to prison—a development that will completely destroy his family. Instead, it turns out that his captor is the father of a girl whom he has recently saved in an earlier scene. When the daughter appears and is reunited with her saviour, the father relents and sends the police away. In the final scene, the rich man befriends the ex-convict, bringing food and presents to his garret apartment.



A young girl is embraced by her wealthy family after the ex-convict has rescued her from an
 onrushing automobile. Later, the fathers shake hands when they visit the poor man's home.

This film was based on a vaudeville one-act, Number 973 , by Robert Hilliard and Edwin Holland. It previewed at Keith's Union Square Theater on March 27, 1903, and was enthusiastically received (see document no. 16). When the play-let, which Hilliard and Holland also co-directed, headed a bill at the same theater on August 31st, the Dramatic Mirror felt that

the piece is strong, concise and well-written and the situations are dramatic without being overdrawn. Mr. Hilliard did excellent work as the rough malefactor with the right sort of heart, and his scene with the little girl was played with much delicacy and feeling. Mr. Holland as the District-Attorney was dignified and forcible, and little Jane Pelton as the child was very sweet indeed. The setting and light effects were admirable in every way.[5]

Hilliard, once a leading actor in the legitimate theater, was an established vaudeville star of the first magnitude. The one-act thus generated unusual attention. A short review in the New York World remarked that the "pathetic little playlet . . . stirred a deeper feeling than vaudeville sketches usually allow."[6] A critic with a sharp memory, however, noted that the Hilliard-Holland script was itself heavily indebted to the play Editha's Burglar .[7] Like Hilliard, Porter was reworking a well-known story.

Starting from the Hilliard-Holland playlet, Porter visualized the information into seven additional scenes. Unlike Uncle Tom's Cabin or Parsifal, The Ex-Convict was not filmed theater, but an adaptation that took advantage of the filmmaker's ability to place a scene in an appropriate location (outside a store, home, or factory and on the street) and to move quickly from one setting to the next. The naturalistic locales and the accelerated pace heightened the emotional intensity of the viewer's reaction to the pathetic story, achieving a level of re-


alism impossible on the stage. Titles at the beginning of each shot in some cases provided lines of dialogue spoken by the character within the scene. In the process of adaptation, Porter also added an important new element: the ex-convict's family. This reflected Porter's own preoccupations and made the film more complex.

The Ex-Convict thus represents a major breakthrough in stage-to-screen adaptation. First, it opened up the play, situating the action in many more locations. Second, it reworked and altered the story itself, making it the filmmaker's own. These creative moves soon became standard practice in American cinema. Examples in silent film include Porter's The Miller's Daughter (1905) and The Prisoner of Zenda (1913), Cecil B. DeMille's Male and Female (1919), and Griffith's Way Down East (1920) and Orphans of the Storm (1921), but they continue to this day.



The admirers of Robert Hilliard had a chance on Friday afternoon to see him in two widely different characters. At half-past two he appeared as the debonair van Bibber in The Littlest Girl and at four o'clock he showed that he could be just as effective in shabbier make-up as the principal person in a new one-act play called Number 973, written by himself and Edwin Holland. The scene of the sketch is laid in the home of Thomas Campbell, District Attorney of New York. Thither comes a burglar who is caught in the act by the District-Attorney who recognized in him the man he had sent up some ten years before for alleged manslaughter. The lawyer promptly telephones for the police, and while he is waiting listens to the burglar's interesting story. Later during the temporary absence of the lawyer the little daughter of the house appears. She had a narrow escape from death the day before under the hoofs of a runaway horse and, it transpires that the man who had saved her was none other than the burglar, who had been driven to his rash act by starvation. The father overhears the conversation between his child and the unfortunate fellow and when the police come in he dismisses them. The inference is that he will not prosecute the preserver of his baby, and the curtain falls on a very pretty picture. The piece made a decided hit at this trial performance and Mr. Hilliard made a neat little speech, expressing his thanks at its very cordial reception. The play is decidedly more effective for the average audience than The Littlest Girl and is a welcome addition to Mr. Hilliard's repertoire.

SOURCE : New York Dramatic Mirror , April 4, 1903, p. 18.


The Ex-Convict focuses on two central institutions whose structures and values concerned Porter throughout his career—family and society. In his many family-centered dramas, parents are constantly threatened with the loss of a child through sickness, fire, or some bizarre act of nature. Again and again they are driven to despair and either through some bold act (the fireman's daring rescue in Life of an American Fireman or the father's battle with a bird in Rescued from an Eagle's Nest ) or simply good fortune, the child is saved and the family reunited. As mentioned in chapter 2, child-centered dramas were not rare in turn-of-the-century America, but Porter's own films reveal an emotional urgency and personal preoccupation that reflected his own loss of progeny. Although the family was often romanticized in American culture of this period, Porter's systematic idealizations reveal a longing for a way of life he found increasingly unattainable. The loss of the child is his own loss.

The Ex-Convict places family and society in conflict, but family values are given primacy. The love and intimacy within the ex-convict's and wealthy attorney's families are contrasted to the impersonality, selfishness, and class antagonism of the social system. The ex-convict is forced to break the law in an attempt to save his daughter's life because society, controlled by the rich, fails to protect its more vulnerable members. The ex-convict's desperate decision to steal is viewed sympathetically, if not actually condoned. When the ex-convict is finally caught, it appears that his family will be destroyed and his child allowed to die once he goes to jail. Family ties become a mechanism for reconciling class differences. If the rich man can forgive the would-be burglar because the ex-convict's daring rescue saved his daughter's life, he can empathize with the poor man's plight because the attempted burglary was motivated by his own child's sickness. In Uncle Tom's Cabin , the death of Eva precipitates the destruction of the family, and the selling of Uncle Tom foreshadows America's internal strife, culminating in the Civil War. The Ex-Convict presents a parallel situation, in which class rather than racial antagonisms are on the verge of spinning out of control. Here, both children (childhood representing innocence and hope for the future) are saved by the good works of the opposing classes and a last-minute reconciliation becomes possible.

In the United States, where Social Darwinism was widespread, Progressives argued that the working class was being forced into a state of destitution and "the great middle class" into one of dependency and genteel poverty. In expressing a longing for a world with greater social justice, for the reduction of class conflict and for a heightened consciousness of the well-to-do vis-à-vis the real grievances of the working class, The Ex-Convict articulated a central concern of the Progressive movement.[8] During the year Porter made this film, Robert Hunter, a journalist of Progressive persuasion, examined the plight of family men in situations similar to the ex-convict's. "The mass of working men on the brink of poverty hate charity," he wrote. "Not only their words convey a


knowledge of this fact, but their actions, when in distress, make it absolutely undeniable. When the poor face the necessity of becoming paupers, when they must apply for charity if they are to live at all, many desert their family and enter the ranks of vagrancy; others drink themselves insensible; some go insane; and still others commit suicide."[9] As Porter's film points out, they might also turn to crime.

The state plays a key, if peripheral, role in The Ex-Convict . One of its representatives, a policeman, undermines the ex-convict's honest, modest, and happy way of life by informing his employer of his past. Another patrolman engages the rich child's nurse (whose nurturing role is the female counterpart of the policeman's) in conversation, causing (or failing to prevent) an accident that would have killed the child if the ex-convict had not intervened. In each instance, the policeman is not intentionally bad—he is merely warning the employer or flirting with the nurse. The consequences of their actions are nonetheless catastrophic, and in both cases it is the ex-convict who suffers. Porter suggests that the state must be more thoughtful and aware of its responsibilities. Its actions (or its failure to act) have consequences in modern society, which is faced with new technology (the automobile that almost runs over the child) and impersonal class relations (the warehouse owner who fires his employee, presumably because he has no personal relationship with him and cannot vouch for his character).

The Ex-Convict was not the first film to deal with class conflict and idealize a reconciliation of labor and capital. In Pathé's The Strike , produced in the summer of 1904, a walkout leads to violence and the deaths of a worker and the factory owner. Eventually the owner's son, who had sided with the workers, and the dead worker's wife, who killed the owner in a moment of rage, reconcile their differences. The film ends "in an apotheosis [where] Labor as a Workingman and Capital as a Rich Man, unite their power to give happiness and fortune to every man. Justice appears and ratifies this alliance."[10] It is quite possible that a viewing of this and similar European imports encouraged Porter to raise social concerns in his films. Despite many parallels between the Edison and Pathé films, Porter chose to situate the conflict between labor and capital not within the work place but within the home. He tended to foreground the social rather than the economic dimensions of the conflict.

The Kleptomaniac , which Porter photographed in the second half of January 1905, continued to explore the themes examined in The Ex-Convict . Condemning the class bias of government and justice, it is Porter's most radical film. The details given in the Edison catalog are not always evident when the film is viewed silently—for instance, there is no reason to suppose the kleptomaniac is a banker's wife (see document no. 17). Many of the specifics, however, could have been articulated in a showman's lecture. Reliance on the exhibitor's


mediation is also suggested by Porter's camera framing and composition. As William Everson has observed, "the interior shot of the department store is so 'busy,' with so many identically dressed women bustling around in a protracted long shot, that the audience is given no guidance at all as to where to look or what is going on."[11] The exhibitor could relieve some of this confusion, perhaps basing his lecture on the catalog description. In this particular scene, a commentator might have reminded viewers that their frustrating efforts to detect the kleptomaniac were not unlike the task of the store detective (recalling the viewer identification with passengers in The Great Train Robbery ).



Two Acts—Ten Scenes and Tableau.

The Kleptomaniac (Mrs. Banker)

Miss. Aline Boyd

Store Detective

Mr. Phineas Nairs

Female Detective

Miss. Jane Stewart

Superintendent Department Store

Mr. George Voijere

The Thief

Miss. Ann Egleston

Police Court Judge

Mr. W. S. Rising


Miss. Helen Courtney

Shoppers, Salesladies, Cash Girls, Policemen, Prisoners


Scene I.—Leaving Home.

The opening scene shows a beautiful residence in a fashionable residential section of New York city. A handsome and richly gowned lady is descending the steps, while a stylish victoria, with coachman and footman in full livery, is waiting at the door. She enters the carriage, gives the footman his orders and drives off. All the surroundings indicate wealth and fashion. Mrs. Banker is going on a shopping tour.

Scene II.—Arrival at Department Store.

The next scene shows a well-known department store at Herald Square, New York city. A stylish turnout is coming down Broadway and stops in front of the main entrance. The footman jumps from the box and Mrs. Banker alights and enters the store.

Scene III.—Interior Department Store.

The interior of the department store is shown. Shoppers are busily engaged making purchases at the different counters. Cash girls are running about in all directions and a floor walker is busy giving orders and directing and attending to the wants of customers. Presently Mrs. Banker is seen approaching the hosiery counter. The saleslady waits on her and

(Text box continued on next page)


shows her the different styles, but none appear to suit her. While the saleslady's back is turned for a moment, Mrs. Banker quickly conceals a pair of hose in her muff and then passes on to the glove counter. In the meantime, her actions have excited the suspicion of a female detective, who now shadows her from counter to counter. At the glove counter she purchases some gloves and orders them sent home, and at a favorable moment adroitly slips a pair into her muff. The lynx-eyed female detective, however, has detected her in the act, informs the floor walkers, and then leaves to find the store detective, and both soon return to the scene. Mrs. Banker is now at the silverware counter, closely watched by the detective. To distract the clerk's attention she requests to be shown some article in a rear case, and while the clerk's back is turned she seizes the opportunity to take a silver flask from the counter and secrete it in her muff. As she turns to go the female detective steps up and accuses her of the theft, which she indignantly denies. The store detective now approaches and conducts Mrs. Banker away through a throng of curious shoppers, who have been attracted by the excitement and commotion.

Scene IV.—Superintendent's Office.

The scene shows the interior of the superintendent's office. He is occupied at his desk while the stenographer is transcribing on the typewriter. The female detective enters and explains the situation. Presently Mrs. Banker enters accompanied by the store detective. The female detective boldly accuses her of shoplifting. Mrs. Banker , in a most haughty manner, denies the charge, whereupon the female detective quickly snatches her muff and withdraws the stolen articles. Mrs. Banker then breaks down and confesses and pleads for mercy. The superintendent is deaf to her entreaties, and the store detective leads her away.

Scene V.—Under Arrest.

The scene now returns to the exterior of the store. The carriage is still waiting. Mrs. Banker and the detective enter the carriage and drive away.

Scene VI.—Police Station.

The exterior of the police station house is shown. A carriage drives up to the door, and the occupants alight and enter the building. We recognize Mrs. Banker and the store detective.


Scene I.—The Home of Poverty.

A scantily furnished room. Poverty and hunger are plainly in evidence. A poor woman is seated at a table with her face buried in her hands. Her youngest child is seated on the floor crying with hunger. Presently a young girl enters. She is evidently the older daughter, who has been out begging

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in the streets but has returned empty-handed. In desperation the mother throws a shawl over her head and rushes from the room.

Scene II.—The Thief.

A street scene. An errand boy is coming out of a grocery store with a basket on his arm. The proprietor rushes out and sends him back to the store for some things he has forgotten. The boy leaves his basket at the door and goes back into the store. At this moment a poor woman comes along, takes a loaf of bread from the basket and hides it under her shawl. The proprietor, who has watched her, rushes out, seizes her and calls for the police. An officer soon appears and drags the woman off to the patrol wagon.

Scene III.—In the Police Patrol.

The scene shows the exterior of a police station house. A patrol wagon is being rapidly driven up the street and stops in front of the station house in the middle of the street. The snow is piled high up on both sides, making it impossible to drive up to the sidewalk. A poor woman is taken from the wagon by an officer and led into the station house.

Scene IV.—Police Court.

A court room seat. The judge enters and takes his seat. He raps for order and opens the court. Among the motley crowd of prisoners the judge discerns Mrs. Banker . He calls a court attendant and instructs him to give Mrs. Banker a chair away from the other prisoners. The clerk then proceeds to call the case.

The first prisoner before the bar is a tough. His blackened eye and battered condition tell their own story. He is quickly sentenced. Vagrancy and larceny cases follow and no time is lost in disposing of them. The next case is one of disorderly conduct. A flashily dressed woman appears and tries to flirt with the judge. She is quickly given an extra sentence "on the island" for her impertinence, and as she is led away by the officer she raises her foot and dress and waves ta-ta to the judge.

The next case is petty larceny. We recognize the poor woman in the two preceding scenes. The officer who arrested her, as well as the groceryman, appear against her. She pleads for mercy. Her little daughter rushes to her side and falls on her knees and pleads to the judge for her mother. But the judge is deaf to all entreaties, and the poor woman is sentenced and led away.

The next case is shoplifting. Mrs. Banker is led to the bar. Her husband, accompanied by a lawyer appears in her defense. The female detective gives her evidence, but the judge ignores her testimony and discharges the prisoner, who falls weeping into her husband's arms.

(Text box continued on next page)



The Kleptomaniac. Mrs. Banker goes on a carefully planned shoplifting spree at Macy's; the desperate 
mother spontaneously steals bread for her children. The courtroom, where, as the final tableau suggests, 
justice favors the wealthy.


A tableau of the figure of Justice. On one side of the scale is a bag of gold, and on the other a loaf of bread. The balance shows in favor of the gold. The bandage on the brow of Justice, however, discloses one eye. Fully described and illustrated in Circular No. 233. 670 ft.

SOURCE : Edison Films , July 1906, pp. 55-56.

In The Kleptomaniac Porter juxtaposes the situations of two women.[12] The impoverished woman is shown at home, in the context of her family. Important details are shown that elicit the viewer's understanding and sympathy: the barren room, the absence of a husband/provider, and the weighty responsibility of children who need care and are still too young to work. Mrs. Banker is never shown inside her home, although the brownstone from which she emerges



An editorial cartoon on the front 
page of the New York World.

clearly indicates her social status. Porter denies her the sympathetic context of family life. She, as the title indicates, has no motivation for shoplifting other than the thrill. Mrs. Banker goes inside a high-class emporium (Macy's) and steals some expensive, nonessential baubles under the noses of sales personnel. Her actions are clearly premeditated. The poor woman is overwhelmed by temptation, stealing food left outside and unattended. Her actions are spontaneous. Although she left home determined to help her family, her specific actions are far from certain. Finally, once arrested, the wealthy kleptomaniac is treated with a courtesy and leniency denied the more deserving mother.

The media during this era frequently criticized and visualized the inequities of a judicial system that favored the rich and lacked understanding for the circumstances of the poor. In June 1896 the New York World ran a front-page political cartoon that anticipated Porter's closing tableau in The Kleptomaniac in all its details.[13] Similar examples of this iconography were undoubtedly produced during the intervening nine years. Porter offered exhibitors the opportunity of extending this criticism still further by identifying the kleptomaniac with the banks. The depiction of Mrs. Banker stealing in Macy's reflected indirectly on her husband, suggesting that he stole as well, but on a grander scale and with the same tacit support and "understanding" of the government. The banking community, which played a key role in the emergence of monopoly capital and the trusts, was frequently attacked by the Progressive movement, which held it responsible for reducing members of the middle and working classes to impoverishment. Thus the poor woman steals to alleviate her family's destitution, which Mr. Banker's accumulation of wealth had helped to create. On this level,



The "White Caps." Rural justice may be harsh, but it is the guilty who are punished.

the simple dualism of rich and poor approaches a more profound, more dialectical relationship between the two central figures.

In The Ex-Convict and The Kleptomaniac , the impoverished parents' crimes are motivated by the needs of their children and are not condemned. Rather, a socioeconomic system in which two essential social values—familial responsibility and honesty—are in conflict is itself in need of reevaluation. The Kleptomaniac , however, does not have the requisite happy ending evident in The Ex-Convict . The personal interaction that makes this possible in the former film is absent in the latter.

Edison's The "White Caps " (August 1905) looks at a troubled nuclear family and the community's eventual intervention in its problems outside the established channels of justice. In 1905 White Cap vigilante groups were active in rural areas of the border states and the Midwest. Members, generally faced with declining income and political power, acted as agents of social control, punishing offenses that the state and local governments failed to address adequately. In this Porter/McCutcheon production, a husband comes home drunk and beats his wife and daughter. To punish him, relatives and neighbors of the beaten woman form a squad of white-hooded vigilantes. After a struggle, the drunkard is tarred, feathered, and drummed out of town on a rail. The film offers a view


of small-town America in which a wayward member is taught a lesson without the formalities of a legal system.[14] The rural community acts as an extension of the family.

A pro-vigilante view of these events was offered in Edison advertisements:

During the rapid march of civilization in America, covering the past fifty years, certain social conditions developed which had to be regulated and controlled by unusual methods. A lawless and criminal element almost invariably accompanied the advance guard of civilization and to keep this element in check the law abiding citizens were compelled to secretly organize themselves for their own protection.

The "Vigilantes" during the gold excitement of '49 in California and the "White Caps" of more recent years in Ohio, Indiana, and other Western States, are well-known organizations which dealt summarily with outlaws and the criminal classes in general.

We have portrayed in Motion Pictures, in a most vivid and realistic manner, the method employed by the "White Caps" to rid the community of undesirable citizens.[15]

The Progressive perception of corrupt justice in The Kleptomaniac could be easily perverted in a different setting, particularly in a rural one.

The "White Caps " had at least two theatrical antecedents. The first was Owen Davis's play The White Caps , which appeared in various cities a few months before the Porter film was made.[16] Despite the similarity in name, however, their narratives had little in common. Rather the tone and narrative of the Porter film owed more to Thomas Dixon, Jr.'s adaptation of The Clansman , which the playwright was rehearsing—amidst considerable publicity—as The "White Caps " went into production.[17] In The Clansman , villainous blacks are sponsored by corrupt carpetbaggers, while the Klan is presented as a force for regeneration. If the Edison film avoids the overt racism of Dixon's novel, it depicts and even accepts a pattern of alternative justice that supports it.

The methods used to influence spectators in The "White Caps " can be compared to Griffith's approach in The Birth of a Nation , which was based on The Clansman . Porter assumed that the viewers' moral outrage at the husband's behavior would lead them to condemn the drunkard and condone his punishment. (In fact, the brutal treatment of the husband usually leads present-day audiences to recoil from his fate.) Griffith, anxious to convert people to his beliefs in white supremacy, did not assume shared attitudes and effectively used parallel editing to force his audience into identifying with the Klan. The Edison film maintains a psychological distance from its subject matter, not because Porter attempted to be objective but because he relied on the audiences' pre-established attitudes to elicit their reactions.

Family was also a subject that Porter addressed in his comedies. The Strenuous Life; or, Anti-Race Suicide (December 1904), lightheartedly spoofs family life and fatherhood. President Roosevelt, who had just won reelection, believed Americans had to lead "the strenuous life" (it was the title of one of his books)



The Seven Ages: William Shakespeare via The May Irwin Kiss.

if the United States was to retain its position of world leadership. He also declared that married women of northern European stock had a responsibility to produce at least four children to prevent "race suicide."[18] Porter combined and burlesqued these two elements: the father returns home as his wife gives birth and soon finds himself caring for quadruplets. The father's expression of pride as he weighs the first baby motivated Porter to cut in to a close shot of his face. (By late 1904, the interpolated close-up of a character's face had been used in well-known films like Biograph's The Lost Child and G. A. Smith's Mary Jane's Mishaps. The Strenuous Life signaled its entry into Porter's repertoire of cinematic strategies.) The father's expression quickly changes to distress as one infant after another is brought in by the nurse. Roosevelt's stock phrases are lampooned in a manner that recalls Terrible Teddy, the Grizzly King (1901).

The centrality of family can also be seen in Porter's treatment of romance and sexuality. In The Seven Ages (February 1905), Porter photographed a series of short vignettes reminiscent of kiss films such as The May Irwin Kiss (1896). These were structured on the premise provided by Shakespeare's "seven ages of man"—a theme often illustrated in nineteenth-century lantern shows. Beginning with toddlers and concluding with old people, the film shows couples kissing. Each of the first seven scenes contains two shots. These scenes open with an establishing shot and conclude with a medium close-up that gives a better view of each kiss. A final tableau for the eighth scene shows an old maid alone, introduced with the title "What Age?" To emphasize her solitude, Porter broke with the structure of earlier scenes and refrained from cutting in. The repetition and diversity of age groups undermines the kiss's exclusively sexual dimension. For Porter, sexuality is expressed within the context of the recurring life-cycle made possible by the family. Without a person to kiss and the family structure Porter associated with it, a woman becomes sexless, ageless, and eccentric while a man (like Jack in Jack the Kisser , which Porter made in September 1907) becomes unstable.


The Country and the City

The rural America of The "White Caps " contrasts sharply with the impersonal city of The Ex-Convict, The Kleptomaniac , and Life of an American Policeman . These urban dramas focus on the breakdown of community relations and their replacement by an unfeeling and often corrupt class structure. The Miller's Daughter (September-October 1905) contrasts this sinful, decadent city to the simple, honest country in a fascinating reworking of Steele MacKaye's melodrama Hazel Kirke . MacKaye's play was first performed at the Madison Square Theater on February 4, 1880, and ran for 486 performances. It pioneered theatrical realism by dispensing with mustachioed villains[19] and subsequently became a standard number in the melodrama repertoire of traveling theatrical troupes.[20]

Hazel Kirke is set in the British Isles, where Hazel, the daughter of miller Dunstan Kirke, is expected to marry Aaron Rodney, a member of the local gentry, who has rescued Kirke's mill from insolvency. But she falls in love with Arthur Carringford, whom Dunstan Kirke has saved from drowning and Hazel has nurtured back to health. He is young, while Rodney is old. The passion of youth triumphs, and Hazel and Carringford elope. Dunstan Kirke banishes her from his home despite Rodney's intervention on Hazel's behalf. Carringford, we now learn, is also a member of the nobility and is defying his mother's wish that he marry a woman of his own class. Lest he break his ill mother's heart and kill her, Carringford and Hazel keep their marriage a secret and live on a small country estate. In time the couple are separated by the machinations of Arthur's mother, who knows her son faces destitution if he does not marry the woman she has selected. Hazel learns of her husband's predicament, returns home, is again rejected by her father, and tries to commit suicide by jumping into the rushing waters below the mill. The blind father, unable to rescue her, realizes what he has caused and raves incoherently. Then Hazel appears with the now penniless Arthur Carringford, who has, it turns out, jumped into the millrace and rescued her from death. Given another chance, Dunstan Kirke forgives, and a family reconciliation occurs.

Porter's extraordinary adaptation begins by juxtaposing Hazel with each of the two suitors, whose social positions, age, and character have been transformed. The discrepancy of age has disappeared. Instead, Arthur Carringford is a suave, citified, well-to-do artist, while his rival Aaron Rodney is a plain, dependable young farmer. Although Hazel prefers Carringford's surface attractiveness and sophistication, her father, the old miller, intuits his perfidy. When Hazel elopes with Carringford, the artist's villainous intentions are revealed: his real wife appears and stops the wedding by producing proof of their marriage. Hazel's refusal to abide by her father's wishes, her violation of family unity, has caused her disgrace: she is exiled to the distant, anonymous city. Like Eve, Hazel has offended a wrathful father and is banished from the bountiful countryside (later in the film a vision of her father looms on the church wall to make this



The Miller's Daughter. The miller disowns his daughter, 
but finally forgives her when she presents him with a grandchild.

religious connection explicit). Living in city slums, "Hazel now realizes the full meaning of her disgrace" as she suffers the meager existence of the working poor. Exposed to the realities of class society, she is left destitute after her sole source of livelihood, a sewing machine, is repossessed. In despair, she returns to her father, pleading for forgiveness, which is again refused. It is Rodney, her once spurned but honest suitor, who rescues her from attempted suicide in the millrace. Through his act of courage, they are united and create their own family. The old miller's earlier judgment of Rodney has been confirmed and his wishes finally recognized, paving the way to a reconciliation with his daughter. The family, once fragmented, is reunited and linked to the next generation with the birth of a child. God, family, and country triumph over city, class society, and duplicity.

This film adaptation is unusual in many respects. For instance, there is a brief mention in MacKaye's Hazel Kirke that Carringford is going to give Hazel a drawing lesson, providing a cue for the reconceived character. In Porter's film the father-miller becomes the moral center of the film, whereas it is Hazel who best understands her own interests in the play. In Hazel Kirke it is Dunstan who misjudges Carringford and refuses to acknowledge his daughter's love and happiness until it is almost too late. In Porter's adaptation, Hazel is fooled by Carringford. She must learn the role of dutiful daughter, wife, and mother. The father assumes a godlike role. The change in title from the woman's name to her designated relationship to her father corresponds to this essential repositioning. It also suggests the extent to which the film industry at this time continued to be a male-privileging institution in comparison to the theater.

This screen adaptation shares many parallels with Porter's adaptation of The Ex-Convict . The mechanism for family reconciliation—the child—is a Porteresque touch. Porter also reverts to melodramatic, good-versus-evil stereotypes, but increases the realism by making the characters ordinary people, film-


ing on location and avoiding the pastoralism of MacKaye's play. Many offstage occurrences are shown in the Porter film, including Hazel's suicidal jump and her rescue. Class differences are banished from rural life (Rodney is just an average farmer) and located in the city. The portrayed conflict between small-town America and large-scale capitalism articulated the beliefs and fears of many native-born Americans. It reflected not only Porter's early experiences but the major demographic shifts of the 1880s and 1890s that had pushed Americans, including Porter and Griffith, out of small towns and into the metropolitan centers. The poverty of the urban slums, the conspicuous consumption of the wealthy, the antagonisms between classes, and the apparent corruption of local government deeply distressed city dwellers who recalled a romanticized and untroubled small-town childhood. Correspondingly, those still living in rural areas feared for a future shaped by distant, urban forces.

The opposition between rural and urban America provided the framework for a modest chase comedy, Down on the Farm , which Porter shot in October 1905, immediately after the completion of The Miller's Daughter . A group of boarding school girls, daughters of wealthy urbanites, steal apples from a farmer. The farmer chases them across fields and over fences (in a reversal of the women chasing the French nobleman in Biograph's Personal ) until they turn on the exhausted rube, throw him into the lake, and pelt him with apples. The country is clearly at the mercy of the city.

Edison films consistently highlight the city-country opposition. The rube or Uncle Josh character who comes to the city and is puzzled and overwhelmed by urban life is a theme Porter absorbed from the self-confidently urban culture of newspapers and vaudeville. From Another Job for the Undertaker (1901) to Down on the Farm and Stage Struck (July-August 1907), his comedies lampoon the country as unsophisticated and old-fashioned, whereas the dramas, derived from a romantic-realist tradition, usually idealize the countryside and criticize city life. The Ex-Convict and The Kleptomaniac focus on impersonal social and legal injustices of the city, while The "White Caps " shows a much more intimate community, where transgressions are punished quickly, surely, and pointedly. The conflicting views of city and country in Porter's dramas and comedies, which would be given more elaborate expression in the films of Griffith (The Country Doctor , 1909) and Mack Sennett (Tillie's Punctured Romance , 1914), reflect the transformations and conflicts in American life, particularly in a middle class torn between the traditional values and certainties of an increasingly outmoded way of life and the sophistication, convenience, and higher living standards of economically advanced urban centers. It was the middle class whose members contributed most extensively to American cultural life and articulated this conflict in particularly intense form.

The police, as representatives of the state, are a presence in many of Porter's films. The state and the family work hand in hand when constituted society is confronted by outsiders. But when Porter looks at the difficulties of urban life,



Life of an American Policeman: helping a child lost in the large, impersonal city (a scene appearing in
 both versions) and chasing a speeding, wealthy motorist who has almost run over a child (in neither
 version but available for separate purchase).

the police and the state often assume more complex roles. Porter's Life of an American Policeman is a sympathetic portrait of the agents of the law. Photographed with the cooperation of the New York Police Department in the fall of 1905, the subject was first shown at two vaudeville benefits for the Police Relief Fund in early December.[21]

Porter focuses on the daily routine of policemen without reference to their superiors, the higher courts, or the larger system of justice of which they are but a part. The emphasis is on good deeds and the ways in which the police benefit the community in which they live. The opening scene, which presents a policeman at home with his wife and child, identifies the police with the institution of the family. The policeman's role in maintaining community values in the impersonal city is shown when policemen help a lost child and rescue a would-be suicide from the river. Their courage is demonstrated as one policeman controls a runaway horse and others risk their lives capturing a desperate burglar. The latter scene, also sold separately as Desperate Encounter Between Burglar and Police , reenacts a robbery and the killing of a policeman as he tries to make the arrest. The actual incident took place on Manhattan's Upper East Side on the morning of March 20, 1904. News reports reveal significant discrepancies between the film sequence and what probably occurred,[22] suggesting that the film exaggerates the heroic actions of the police and the cowardice of the burglar.

In the film's last scene, a cop takes an unscheduled rest period, then skillfully circumvents the roundsman—emphasizing the policeman's humanity by showing his petty foibles in the context of real courage.[23] The film, a portrait of common people, avoids grandiose heroics that would reduce it to simple propaganda. Of all Porter's films, Life of an American Policeman comes closest to fulfilling the demands of nineteenth-century realism.[24] The focus on common


people, the portrayal of real situations (even to the point of returning to the original location and using actual participants to recreate the event), the refusal to subject the film to a single narrative, and the inclusion of the home life all make this a remarkable film.

From an editorial standpoint, the tension between the individual shot, the various sequences, and different possible programs is particularly striking in the case of Life of an American Policeman , with its 1,000-foot, full-reel length. Yet Porter in fact had 1,500 feet of usable subject matter, composed of nine discrete sequences. To solve this problem Porter (or the Edison Company) made two different 1,000-foot versions—one with "Desperate Encounter Between Burglar and Police" and the other with "River Tragedy," a sequence in which the police rescue a woman who has jumped into the Hudson. Bicycle Police Chasing Auto was in neither version but only sold separately. In addition several of the sequences appearing in the features were offered for sale as individual shorts. The subject reveals a conflict between one single order (the "preferred" version that included "River Tragedy") and possible alternative orderings, either the producer's alternate version or others that renters or exhibitors could create themselves. Thus Life of an American Policeman is an open or reversible text. Even within sequences like "Desperate Encounter between Burglar and Police," shots were conceived as discrete units linked together by overlapping action and temporality. Although Porter had largely, though not exclusively, assumed the role of editor, he continued to work under the strong influence of exhibitor-dominated cinema. The product lacked standardization. Porter's freedom to work in this way would, however, rapidly be curtailed by the demands of the nickelodeon era that was just beginning. The 1,000-foot restriction on a picture's length was already an industry standard, creating problems that Porter would seek to avoid in the future. On one hand, Life of an American Policeman can be considered Porter's last film of the pre-nickelodeon era; on the other, it already reflected the transition to this new exhibition form.

The Ex-Convict, The Kleptomaniac, Life of an American Policeman, The Miller's Daughter , and The "White Caps " offer an elaborate view of American life that acknowledges important social issues yet yearns for the simple solutions that once seemed so effective in the small-town environment out of which Porter had originally come. The films express the same middle-class concerns that the Progressive movement spoke to on a political level. The middle class was itself in transition: the old middle class that was outside the labor-capital dialectic was rapidly giving way to a new middle class that was part of this dialectic, shading into the working class at one end and the large capital-owning class at the other. Given the heterogeneity of the American middle classes, the political movement that they produced was predictably far from unified in its programs and in its alliances with other social groups. Porter's films best articulate the views of the older, more rural middle class—the petite bourgeoisie


whose members were neither employers nor employees. The political radicalism of specific films, when viewed in a larger context, had an underlying conservative basis. They articulated an angry response to a loss of power as government and the socioeconomic system became less responsive to this group's expectations and needs. Vigilantism of a certain sort became emotionally, if not intellectually, attractive.

Porter's subject matter and treatment differed substantially from the films being made by other American production companies. Biograph leaned toward comparatively sophisticated sexual comedies, such as Personal . Love triangles with clear references to infidelity, often involving a pretty "typewriter," were common in headliners like The Story the Biograph Told . Porter rarely dealt with sexuality in this way, and then only when imitating previous successes. Biograph subjects consistently offered entertainment rather than moralism. Its films celebrated the urban culture on which they were based—lampooning the city man who moves to the suburbs in The Suburbanite (October 1904) or summers in the rural countryside in The Summer Boarders (July 1905). Biograph dramas, moreover, commonly saw the country as a source of poverty and violence (A Kentucky Feud , 1905).

J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith, the two English-born producers of the Vitagraph trio, were also anxious to portray the excitement and dynamism of the city, to valorize the speed and mobility of the automobile. In Vitagraph's The 100 to One Shot; or, A Run of Luck (1906), a young man goes to the city, where he stumbles onto a hot tip at a race track and wins the money needed to save his family home from foreclosure. In a Porter film, gambling would never provide the means to salvation; but for Blackton and Smith, urban culture, even its more sinful manifestations, was a fount of opportunity and good fortune. Even Vitagraph's A Midwinter Night's Dream (1906), about a waif who dreams he is taken into the home of a wealthy family, owes much more to a sentimentalism derived from Charles Dickens than to contemporary American concerns.

The German-Jewish immigrant Sigmund Lubin was content to entertain moving picture audiences with comedies based on his competitors' successes (A Dog Lost, Strayed or Stolen; I. B. Dam and the Whole Dam Family; Meet Me at the Fountain ), fight reproductions, and films of crime (Highway Robbery, The Counterfeiters ). William C. Paley and William Steiner with Avenging a Crime; or, Burned at the Stake as well as William Selig with Tracked by Bloodhounds also featured violent confrontations. Many Selig films, however, used Colorado as a background for their dramas, increasingly romanticizing the frontier rather than the city. Porter's films aside, the exploration of social issues on the screen was primarily a European phenomenon, with Pathé's The Strike (La Grève , 1904), Scenes of a Convict's Life (Au Bagne , 1905), Le Cuirassé Potemkine (1905), and Mining District (Au Pays Noir , 1905) providing a few surviving


examples. Porter was the only filmmaker directly to confront American social concerns during this period.

Society and Its Outcasts

Not all Porter/Edison films from this period explored conflicts within the social structure. The staples of the industry in the pre-Griffith period, as today, concentrated on dramatic conflict between constituted society and those living on its fringes or completely outside it. The tramp, a frequent subject of Edison comedies, was one of society's outcasts. While Porter was growing up, tramps were customarily seen as a dangerous menace. As a result of an attempt to control their pilfering, many ended up in the Connellsville town jail.[25] Almost twenty years later, the tramp and his relationship to society were often viewed in more romantic terms.

The nearer these refugees from modern society can approach the habits of their primeval ancestors the greater appears to be their satisfaction. Many of them boast not only that they no longer need to work, but that they can live without begging. They tell you they are perfectly independent of the laws which govern the rest of the world.

. . . Is stealing to the man or boy who has abandoned human society for that of nature a crime? Stealing is the first law of nature by which all animals not subdued by man and all plant life obtain subsistence.[26]

This perception of the tramp's predicament begins to explain his status as the single most popular figure in turn-of-the-century culture. In "Happy Hooligan," "Burglar Bill," "Weary Willie," and dozens of other comic strips, plays, and short films, the tramp is generally portrayed as an annoying, but relatively harmless, scavenger, whose petty thievings and inevitable punishment provide numerous situations for comedy. The ritual beatings he receives at the hands of the law or outraged citizenry humorously define proper society's boundaries in terms of the outcast. They conform to Henri Bergson's assertion that the comic lies in an individual's inability to adapt to society, and that comedy functions as a kind of social ragging.

The Burglar's Slide for Life (March 1905) elaborates on Porter's earlier Pie, Tramp and the Bulldog (1901) as the bulldog protects the home. He is man's (socialized man's) best friend. The tramp burglar, looking for a free lunch, prowls an apartment building. He hides in a vapor bath when the mistress of the house enters the room. Porter's familiar overlapping action is used as the tramp is discovered, flees through a window, and is chased down the clothesline by the family dog (Mannie). In his desperate effort to escape, the fleeing burglar thus mimes a then popular daredevil stunt ("the slide for life"). Reaching the courtyard, he is beaten by other apartment dwellers and bitten by the dog.

The tramp avoids his ritual beating in Poor Algy! (September 1905) by



Poor Algy has in error received the 
tramp's customary punishment.

switching clothes with the young lover, Algy. When Algy, dressed as a tramp, tries to approach his girl, she fails to recognize him and retreats. Algy chases after her. The girl soon passes a pugilist doing roadwork for an upcoming fight. He administers the tramp's traditional beating—to poor Algy. Once again Porter played with a well-established genre and its codified relationships between characters: minimal variations gave the piece a freshness not always apparent to present-day viewers.

"Raffles "—the Dog (June 1905) was another Edison comedy involving a thief. The original Raffles started out as a series of short stories by E. W. Hornung about a gentleman safecracker of elderly years who wins readers' amused tolerance more than their condemnation.[27] By June 1905 Raffles had been made into a play and a comic strip. In "Raffles "—the Dog , "Raffles," once again played by Mannie, is a charming, innocent thief directed by conniving masters. After the thieves rob several upright citizens, a chase ensues that concludes with their capture. The dog's asocial behavior is like that of other petty thieves in Edison comedies: the tramps in Poor Algy! and The Burglar's Slide for Life , the juvenile delinquents in The Terrible Kids (1906), and the shiftless "darkies" of The Watermelon Patch (1905).

Porter, like other filmmakers of the pre-1908 period, often portrayed outlaws who threaten society as members of fringe or outcast groups, with such characterization serving as motivation for their illegal activities. This is the case with the racial humor and black stereotyping in Porter and McCutcheon's The Watermelon Patch (October 1905). Their happy-go-lucky thieves, who "seem to think eating watermelon is the only pleasure in the world"[28] are comedic counterparts to the ruthless, scheming lovers of white women in The Clansman. The Watermelon Patch begins as an absurdist comedy: a number of "darkies" steal watermelons and flee, pursued by redneck farmers dressed in skeleton costumes. Losing their pursuers, the darkies reach their destination, where they dance and



The Watermelon Patch. Inside and outside: spatial distortions reduce fun-loving "darkies" to pygmies.

enjoy their watermelon until the rednecks arrive. When the whites board up the exits and seal the chimney, the darkies are soon covered with soot, another racial "joke." (In 1905 many Negro performers still went on stage in black face—as did white actors impersonating blacks. This joke played with the "childish" belief that black skin is black because it is covered with soot.)

In the film's last three shots, Porter alternated exterior and interior scenes using an editorial construction similar to the ending of Life of an American Fireman . After showing the rednecks sealing the chimney, Porter cut to the interior, where the "darkies" hear the intruders, grow quiet, and slowly feel the ill-effects of the smoke. Realizing what is happening, they make their escape. The final shot, once again of the exterior, returns to the moment when the darkies begin to make their escape. It shows them coming out of the house and receiving the blows of the amused rednecks. What is fascinating, both cinematically and perhaps as an example of unconscious racism, is the contrast between the exterior scenes in which the handful of rednecks dwarf the tiny shack and the interior scenes in which the shack comfortably holds twenty "darkies"—reducing them to the size of pygmies.

The Watermelon Patch is as revealing of the state of American cinema in 1905 as it is of American racism. Earlier Edison films depicting African Americans include Chicken Thieves (1897), in which "darkies" raid a chicken coop; Watermelon Eating Contest (1896), a one-shot facial expression film of happy blacks eating watermelon; and The Pickaninnies (1894), showing three Negro youths doing a jig and breakdown. These often-used motifs are integrated into Porter's later film. The dancing and watermelon contest are treated as self-contained scenes, which interrupt the Watermelon Patch narrative. The isolated images of blacks presented in these earlier films are unified and elaborated.


They are superstitious, petty thieves, good dancers, and love watermelon. They like to have a good time, but their inherent laziness must be subsidized by pilfering.[29]

The Watermelon Patch owes much to Biograph's The Chicken Thief (1904), in which darkies steal chickens and bring them home for a party of eating and dancing. On their next outing, the two thieves are chased and caught by angry rednecks.[30] The many parallels between the two films are partially explained by McCutcheon's involvement in both projects. Sigmund Lubin's somewhat later Fun on the Farm (November 1905) makes the lighthearted tone of these two films even more explicit: tarring and leathering the local pumpkin(!) thief is shown to be one of the many amusing ways to pass the time down on the farm. In all these films, whites chasing blacks is shown to be good, clean fun. African Americans are portrayed as childlike and unsocialized. Whites, as responsible members of society, are obliged to chastise them and maintain discipline.

Although many early films (comedies as well as dramas) used made-up whites to play the roles of blacks, the Edison Company assured prospective buyers of The Watermelon Patch that "all the watermelon thieves are genuine negroes."[31] Not surprisingly, this and most other motion pictures did not make a "sure hit" in the black communities. As storefront theaters began to appear across the country in late 1905 and 1906, those intended for black audiences were among the few to fail. According to one amusement manager, "When a negro goes to a show, it pleases him most to see black faces in the performance. But no pictures are made with Senegambian [sic ] faces."[32] The few films that did use black performers must have alienated these audiences even more.

While those outside proper society are undersocialized in Edison comedies; outsiders in Edison dramas are antisocial. They threaten society's very fabric, often by directing their attacks against the family. In Stolen by Gypsies (July 1905), gypsies abduct a well-to-do family's child, who has been left momentarily unattended by a nursemaid. This film belongs to a popular kidnapping genre that emerged in 1904. Porter's first effort was the three-shot Weary Willie Kidnaps a Child (May 1904), but the genre was made popular by such English imports as The Child Stealers (1904).[33] Illustrious examples of this family-centered genre eventually included Cecil Hepworth's Rescued by Rover (1905) and D. W. Griffith's directorial debut, The Adventures of Dollie (1908). All have remarkably similar narratives. A gypsy or some other outcast steals and then abuses the young child of a respectable, upper-middle-class family. The parents experience a range of emotions—anguish, guilt, remorse—over their loss. As in Stolen by Gypsies , the situation is usually more poignant because the victim is an only child. In the inevitable happy ending, the child is rescued and the nuclear family restored.

By October 1904 the genre was well enough established for Biograph to turn



In Stolen By Gypsies, parents mourn the loss of their only child, 
whose portrait dominates their home.

it inside out and make a comedy, The Lost Child . When the child disappears into a dog house, the mother assumes the worst and chases an innocent passerby, whom she believes to be the kidnapper. Societal paranoia and the family-centered drama are spoofed, although the irony is softened because the generic form defines it as an amusing exception. For the first half of Stolen by Gypsies , Porter and co-director Wallace McCutcheon, who had been partially responsible for The Lost Child , took the popular Biograph success and gave it another twist. As before, the wrong people are chased. They are no longer innocent pedestrians, however, but chicken thieves. Moreover, the child is actually stolen. Although sometimes humorous, the first part emphasizes the vulnerability of the family to assault. The second returns to the conventional formula: the child is found and reclaimed by the parents, reuniting the family, while the police perform the subsidiary function of backing up their action with force.

Porter considered Stolen by Gypsies an important film and sent the following note to West Orange with the undeveloped negative:



The Train Wreckers. The outlaws capture the switchman's 
daughter; later her lover, the engineer, kills her tormentors.

July 6th

Dear Sir:

Am sending you today undeveloped negative complete with announcements of "Stolen by Gypsies". Have made tests of same and found them photographically perfect. In as much as this has been a quite expensive production kindly see that every care is taken with them. Have instructed Mr. Bonine to develop them in "Pyro."
Very truly yours,
E. S. Porter

P.S. Please return negative to me after they are developed and I will trim same and forward to you immediately.[34]

Stolen by Gypsies , shown with Edwin Arden's play Zorah at Proctor's 5th Avenue Theater, was lauded by the New York Sun . The review was promptly reprinted in an Edison ad:

Yesterday between the second and third acts there was a wait of over half an hour, during which the audience was treated to an intensely interesting motion picture drama, entitled "Stolen by Gypsies." There was so much human interest in this little story and its climaxes came so thick and fast, as it followed the child from the moment that it was stolen up to the hour of its rescue a year later in the gypsies' camp that it made "Zorah" by comparison seem rather stilted and stagy.[35]

Despite the praise, the feature sold a modest 59 prints over the next year and a half (compared to the more than 300 copies sold of Hepworth's Rescued by Rover , which was released in the United States at about the same time).

The Train Wreckers (November 1905) includes Porter's most violent expression of the conflict between constituted society and its outsiders. The outlaw band, with its apparently irrational desire to destroy all social order, is finally eliminated by a combined force of railroad personnel and select passengers.


From the Lumières' Train Entering a Station (1895) to Ilya Trauberg's China Express (1929), the train is one of the central iconographic figures in silent cinema, and Porter, perhaps more than anyone, made it so. Trauberg's train is divided into first, second, and third class compartments, with the principal conflict between the workers in third class and the imperialists and their Chinese associates in first. Porter's train has no such differentiation. Although the film's principal characters are skilled members of the working class, the conflict is not between classes or different social groups, but against an external threat, a cause around which society can rally all its members. With order finally restored, a romance between the engineer and the switchman's daughter, introduced at the beginning of the film, resumes. Society is able to return to its proper preoccupations.

The Train Wreckers effectively demonstrates the need for social cohesion in a way that could serve as a prototype for future good-guy-versus-bad-guy conflicts. It was extremely successful, selling 157 prints during 1905-6, and its narrative would be reworked six years later in one of D. W. Griffith's most successful Biograph films, The Girl and Her Trust (released March 28, 1912). Films like The Train Wreckers and Stolen by Gypsies see the social order as continually threatened from without. In articulating this conflict, Porter used the chase as a central narrative strategy: the bulldog chases the tramp down the clotheslines; the rednecks pursue the watermelon thieves; the railroad passengers overtake the train wreckers; and constituted society defeats its enemies. In films where Porter examined the inner workings of society, this is much less likely to be the case.

The Edison Comedies

Although Porter took serious looks at American society, comedies were the mainstay of Edison production. Generally they worked within well-defined genres, like Poor Algy! and The Burglar's Slide for Life , or adapted narratives from fads and hit songs that had wide audience recognition. Many completely avoided any reference to societal concerns. Porter made one technical breakthrough that elevated several of his comedies from this period to the status of "novelties": it was a special form of object animation. As Porter applied the technique, a hodgepodge of letters moved against their black backgrounds until they formed the intertitles for the succeeding scene.[36] This was done for How Jones Lost His Roll (March 1905), The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog (May 1905), Coney Island at Night (June 1905), and Everybody Works but Father (November 1905).

When Edison's advertising manager, L. C. McChesney, sent out copy for How Jones Lost His Roll , he did not find it necessary to mention the film's narrative.



Postcard art was the source for The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog.

This film has already created a decided sensation in numerous Vaudeville Theatres, Moving Picture Entertainments, and among Exhibitors both in this country and abroad. There is not a dull or uninteresting moment throughout the entire picture while at several points the audience breaks into rounds of applause and laughter. From beginning to end the audience is kept in one continual state of expectancy. The illustrations which are reproduced from the film itself show "HOW JONES LOST HIS ROLL ," while the letters after much effort and manoeuvering disentangle themselves at intervals and tell the story in words. . . . Everyone wants to know how it is done.[37]

The story, about Jones who is systematically cheated of his money by a so-called friend, is told twice, in words and pictures, with the "jumble announcements" making the intertitles more important than the pictures they illuminate, inverting the normal relationship between image and title.

The humorous subversion of conventional narrative strategies was also an important aspect of The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog . Many films of this period (Biograph's The Firebug , Vitagraph's The Servant Girl Problem , and Edison's How a French Nobleman Got a Wife . . .) are introduced by a close-up of the main character(s) "so that his make-up, costume . . ., facial expression and bearing may be appreciated by the audience."[38] Sometimes, as with Biograph's The Widow and the Only Man , name cards at the bottom of the frame identify the individual. In The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog , each family member is introduced with a close-up and a name card—"Mr. I. B. Dam," "Miss U. B. Dam," and so on—at the bottom of the frame. These are followed by an abbreviated one-scene narrative as the Dam dog (Mannie) interrupts a family meal by pulling the tablecloth and all the dishes onto the floor. As Tom Gunning points out, the normal relationship between the introduction of characters and the development of narrative is reversed. Not only wordplay but playing with the audience's expectations of cinematic form contributed to the comedy's humor.

Edison advertising announced that The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog continued "a popular fad which has been widely advertised by lithographs and souvenir mailing cards and has recently been made the subject of a sketch in a New York Vaudeville Theatre."[39] Production records indicate that this film



The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog: a family portrait.

was shot in late May 1905, a month before the theatrical production had its debut at the Aerial Gardens in New York.[40] The Edison film was not indebted to the theatrical production for its conception; publicity merely referred to it as a general indication of the subject's timeliness and popularity. Rather it took the postcard caricatures and realized them in a series of facial expression "films." A group portrait follows, formally reprising the family panorama on the postcard. The dog's initial appearance in the final, narrative segment remains consistent with a left-to-right reading of the postcard as well as its place outside the enveloping dark background. If the subject was familiar, the company claimed to have used its "usual up-to-date methods" to illustrate "this popular subject in a most novel and original way." Narratization that gave new and special meaning to the designation of the family pet as "the Dam dog," the Edison dog itself, animated titles, and close-ups: all brought original elements to a popular fad, enabling Edison to sell 136 copies of the film during 1905-6. On the eve of the nickelodeon era, this combination of novelty and familiarity was the formula for commercial success.

Everybody Works but Father (November 1905) "opens with a laughable 'Jumble' Announcement—a new feature, exclusively Edison, mysterious and novel to a degree."[41] Its narrative was based on a song of the same title popularized by Lew Dockstader. Biograph had already made a similar film a month earlier, but without the animated intertitles. The Biograph film was advertised


as "a decided novelty for Illustrated Song Singers," and a surviving program urged the audience to join in the chorus, a strategy of exhibition not suggested in Edison promotional material.[42] Another Edison animated title from this period survives in the George Kleine Collection at the Library of Congress. This fragment reads "23 Skidoo," but has no accompanying picture. In any case, the Edison Company must have felt that the novelty of animated titles had been exhausted. Perhaps because Everybody Works but Father sold only forty-seven copies in the fifteen months after its release, the procedure was abandoned. J. Stuart Blackton, in contrast, soon applied the technique to new situations when he animated his sketches in Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (April 1906) and various stuffed animals in A Midwinter Night's Dream (December 1906). Porter was one of the first filmmakers to use animation techniques, but others were to see their broader possibilities.

Porter and his contemporaries frequently turned hit songs into comedies. In May 1905, a few months before making Everybody Works but Father , Porter photographed On a Good Old Five Cent Trolley Ride . This "burlesque on street car service"[43] was based on a song of the same title with the following chorus.

When speeding along on the trolley 
I feel like a big millionaire. 
A ride on the Trolley is jolly, 
Whatever you give up is fare. 
The Trolley's a hummer in summer 
If you've got a girl at your side. 
To tease in the breeze while you're stealing a squeeze, 
On a good old five cent trolley ride.[44]

The Kinetograph Department suggested that "it greatly adds to the effectiveness of the picture if the music of the well-known popular song 'On a Good Old 5¢ Trolley Ride' is played while the picture is shown. The words and music of a portion of the chorus complete the picture."[45]

The Little Train Robbery (August 1905) was indebted to another well-known hit-this time in cinema. Porter burlesqued his own The Great Train Robbery by substituting children for adults and using a miniature railroad and playhouse as sets. The young robbers don't take money but candy and dolls. Their getaway replicates the escape in The Great Train Robbery , except that the delinquents are finally captured by full-grown policemen. The bandit queen who has organized the robbery, however, escapes. The film's stance was intended to be nostalgic. The Edison Company hoped that "while the young folks are enjoying themselves their elders can find equal enjoyment in recalling their own youthful days, when their highest ambition was to become a 'Jesse James,' or a 'Bandit Queen.' "[46] The film was nostalgic for another reason. Porter made the film at Olympia Park while visiting his hometown of Connellsville.[47] Released as the nickelodeon era was beginning, The Little Train Robbery must have



Boarding School Girls. The car wiggles down the road. 
The scene suggested too much exuberance and was 

disturbed literal-minded critics who saw storefront theaters as schools for crime. Such a film would have provided undesirable role models for the young. Even worse, it suggests that these children were modeling themselves on the bandits in a film "universally admitted to be the greatest production in MOTION PICTURES ." If the Kinetograph Department honestly expected the new film to "meet with the same unqualified approval and unprecedented success as The Great Train Robbery ,"[48] it was disappointed. The picture sold a meager thirty prints during 1905-6, when most of Porter's comedies sold two or three times that number.

Another Edison comedy, Boarding School Girls (July-August 1905), followed the students of Miss Knapp's Select School to Coney Island. As with Rube and Mandy at Coney Island (1903), the film enabled audiences to vicariously enjoy the famous resort through characters who were there on an outing. Although made only two years later, Boarding School Girls integrates narrative and spectacle, as well as performers and environment, in a much more seamless fashion. A remarkable traveling shot of the girls being driven to the amusement park, photographed from another moving vehicle, was removed after the first prints were made.[49] The scene can be found in the paper print version, but not in the otherwise complete negative at the Museum of Modern Art. Perhaps the playfulness appeared too dangerous (the car wiggles back and forth across the road) and bad for the school's image. Once the group arrives at the amusement park, "they take in everything in sight. Passing through Creation they capture the 'Miniature Railway' and 'shake' their governess who endeavors to overtake them. 'Shooting the Chutes,' 'Riding the Camels,' 'The Dew Drop,' 'Steeplechase' and 'Carousel' are all visited. A parade on the beach in bathing costumes is followed by a visit to the 'Flying Swings' and a dip in the surf. 'The Trolley,' 'Razzle Dazzle,' 'Moving Stairway,' 'The Twister' and 'Barrel of Love' are next visited in turn, until finally overtaken and captured by their governess they start for home."[50]

Another Porter comedy, produced in the fall or winter of 1905, was Minstrel Mishaps , which survives in the Kleine Collection at the Library of Congress. It was "conceived and produced by America's Only Minstrel Star, LEW


DOCKSTADER ,"[51] showing his "late arrival on the special, his dash to the theatre in the only cab in town, the great make-up scene, the minstrel band and the Biggest Knock-out Finish with Lew Dockstader himself in every scene." The film was toured as part of Dockstader's Minstrels in the spring of 1906 and "caused most laughter and applause."[52] By the end of 1907, Dockstader was selling the picture to film exchanges. A year later, the Edison Company bought the negative and sold the comedy as a regular release.

Actualities and Short Subjects

Although the production of narrative features had increased dramatically by early 1905, Edison cameramen continued to generate a diverse selection of films. Porter photographed news and sporting events like President Roosevelt's Inauguration (with Robert K. Bonine); Play Ball-Opening Day, NYC (April 1905), which showed the baseball game between John McGraw's New York Giants and the Boston Braves;[53]Opening of Belmont Park Race Course (May 1905); and Start of Ocean Race for Kaiser's Cup (May 1905). Spectacular Scenes—N.Y. City Fire (December 1905) showed "the destruction of the Lackawanna and Jersey Central Railroad Ferry Houses."[54]Scenes and Incidents, Russo-Japanese Peace Conference was photographed on August 8, 1905, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire—the setting for President Roosevelt's mediated settlement of the Russo-Japanese War. It offers an interesting case study in the production of newsworthy actuality subjects in 1905.

Scenes and Incidents, Russo-Japanese Peace Conference, Portsmouth, N.H . sold thirty-one copies, or 24,800 feet of film—almost 40 percent of Edison's actuality footage for 1905. It also provoked a court case. The story begins in mid July, when George H. Keyes of the Portsmouth Observation Company arranged for an Edison photographer to come to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Porter arrived a week later and took a 220-foot subject of a dynamite explosion that widened the Piscataqua River. Total cost to Keyes:

220 feet negative @ 40¢ per foot


220 feet positive @ 12¢ per foot


Porter's expenses




The negative was held at the Edison lab and prints sold to Keyes. Keyes was eager to have Porter return the following week and film the ceremonies surrounding the Russian-Japanese Peace Conference. He thus brought the most popular news subject of 1905 to the Kinetograph Department's attention.

Once Edison executives were informed of the event, they decided that the subject should be marketed commercially rather than made for a commission. Moreover, the Kinetograph Department wanted an exclusive and so appeared to cooperate with Keyes without actually committing itself to his request. When



Porter complemented the fantasy world of lights that was Coney Island at night with animated titles.

Porter returned to Portsmouth on August 6th, Keyes learned that the cameraman would not be in his employ. Duped, Keyes angrily contacted the Biograph Company, which agreed to supply a motion picture photographer, who arrived the following day. Fortunately for Keyes and Biograph, but unfortunately for Porter, the ceremonies that had been scheduled for August 7th were delayed until August 8th.[56] Keyes now tried to turn the tables by initiating a suit against Edison, so that Porter's camera equipment was attached an hour before the festivities. Fast work enabled Porter to reach a bondsman, free his equipment, and still photograph the pageantry. Without Keyes, neither Edison nor Biograph would have filmed this historic event.

During 1905 the Kinetograph Department also produced a few human interest films like Steamboat Travel on the Long Island Sound (August 1905) and Firemen's Parade, Scranton, Pa . (September 1905).[57] Neither was considered important enough to copyright. Coney Island had been a favorite locale for this type of subject, and the Edison Manufacturing Company acquired "the exclusive privilege for the season of 1905 at Dreamland, one of the principal parks."[58] For Coney Island at Night (June 1905), Porter's camera caressed the lit-up amusement center with long sweeping pans, producing an eerie beauty. Other subjects made under this arrangement included Hippodrome Races, Dreamland, Coney Island (June 1905), Mystic Shriners' Day, Dreamland, Coney Island (July 1905), and June's Birthday Party (July 1905), as well as Boarding School Girls .

In June an Edison photographer took several short films in Bliss, Oklahoma, with Lucille Mulhall's Wild West Show. Such films as Lucille Mulhall Roping and Tying Steer, Great Buffalo Chase , and Western Bad Man Shooting Up Saloon sold between one and six prints.[59] Short comedies from 1905 included Unfortunate Policeman and Digesting a Joke . In the latter film comedian James T. Powers cuts out an amusing article from a paper, swallows it, and seems to


find its contents amusing as he digests it.[60] (None of these subjects were copyrighted, although descriptions can be found in Edison's July 1906 film catalog.) The Edison Company was able to offer many more short comedies by selling individual scenes from its longer films. In 1905-6, the company sold nine copies of "Burglar and Bulldog" from The Burglar's Slide for Life , eight copies of "Sneezing" from The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog , seven of "Girls and the Bumpety Bumps" from Boarding School Girls , and five of "Old Sweethearts" from The Seven Ages . This did not mean that Porter conceived of each scene as an independent film. The Kinetograph Department's sale of these separate scenes recognized that some exhibitors still wanted to purchase short subjects, even though such films could no longer be profitably produced for that purpose alone.

Miscellaneous subjects showed the sharpest decline in popularity and production. Among the handful to be photographed were Blowing Bottles and The Kilties Band : neither sold a single print. Sales figures and copyright practices make it clear that by 1905-6 all forms of motion picture production other than "feature"-length narrative films had become marginally profitable at best. The shift to longer story films was not a "choice" made by producers: it was a necessity determined by the tastes and demands of exhibitors and their audiences. Edison's variety approach to film production was in its final stages of decline as the nickelodeon era arrived; the rise of storefront theaters simply completed its demise.


Elaborating on the Established Mode of Representation: 1905-1907

Between December 1905 and May 1907, filmmaking practice at the Edison Manufacturing Company changed very little even as motion picture exhibition was undergoing a fundamental upheaval. As before, there were two production units. One was headed by the solitary, itinerant cameraman Robert K. Bonine, who toured the United States and its possessions, taking travel subjects as well as some news films and industrials. While the cameraman system was used for actualities, a collaborative system of production remained in effect at the studio as Edwin Porter and Wallace McCutcheon continued to explore the rich possibilities of cinema within the already established representational system of fiction film. With the nickelodeon era beginning, the Kinetograph Department enjoyed enhanced profitability and spent more time working on each subject. That this response to the proliferation of storefront motion picture theaters was commercially inappropriate is evident from a brief look at the emerging new era of exhibition.

A Transformation in the Realm of Exhibition

The rapid proliferation of specialized storefront moving picture theaters— commonly known as nickelodeons (a reference to the customary admission charge of five cents)—created a revolution in screen entertainment. In retrospect the ten-year period between 1895 and 1905 witnessed the establishment and finally the saturation of cinema within preexisting venues. Reviewing vaudeville in late 1905, the new publication Variety declared that "in the present day when a special train is hired and a branch railroad tied up for a set of train robbery or wrecking pictures, the offerings are really excellent and those who remain



Early nickelodeon theaters such as this one transformed the film world.

and watch them, get sometimes what is really the best thing on the bill. The picture machine is here to stay as long as a change of film may be had every week."[1] Regular Sunday motion picture shows were being given in many eastern cities, and traveling motion picture exhibitors prospered and increased in numbers. Penny arcades and summer parks boasted of numerous picture shows by 1904-5. Such success pointed to the potential viability of specialized picture houses.

Nickelodeons transformed and superseded these earlier methods of film exhibition. They were more than simply specialized motion picture theaters—a common, if often ignored, venue for film exhibition since 1895. The new exhibition mode was made possible by a large and growing, predominantly working-class, audience; the existence of rental exchanges, which facilitated a rapid turnover of films; the conception of the film program as an interchangeable commodity (the reel[s] of film); a "continuous" exhibition format; a sufficient level of feature production to meet demand for frequent program changes; and the relative independence of film exhibition from more traditional forms of entertainment. The nickelodeon phenomenon developed first in the urban, industrial cities of the Midwest, beginning in Pittsburgh, where Harry



An Edison Exhibition Projecting Kinetoscope, ca. 1907-8.

Davis opened his first Pittsburgh storefront theater in June.[2] With the area's working classes enjoying unprecedentedly high wages, Davis's experiment was a success and was quickly imitated in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. The "nickel madness" of motion pictures spread outward from its midwestern, urban base in an uneven pattern, taking almost two years to reach all parts of the United States.

Although nickel theaters were being recognized as important exhibition outlets by early 1906, New York City, the nation's production capital, did not feel their presence until that spring.[3] Within six months New York was assumed to have "more moving picture shows than any city in the country."[4] In Manhattan the largest concentration was on Park Row and the Bowery, where at least two dozen picture shows and as many arcades were scattered down a mile-long strip. Their principal patrons were Jewish and Italian working-class immigrants.[5] While these groups made up the hard-core moviegoers, middle-class shoppers from the Upper East and Upper West sides helped to support the theaters along Fourteenth Street and Sixth Avenue. When members of the elite or leisure class saw films, they did so at travel lectures like those given by Burton Holmes or at vaudeville performances, not in dingy storefronts.

As newspaper editorials soon made clear, the "better classes" viewed the nickelodeons with contempt and alarm.[6] The sense of farce and anarchistic play


in the comedies and the condemnation of the rich, not only in social message films like The Kleptomaniac but in more conventional melodramas, could be reinterpreted in ways that might threaten the status quo. Both the appeal to sexual desire and pleasure and the depiction of violent and transgressive acts (robbery, murder) encountered strong condemnation from conservative religious groups. Moreover, nickelodeons facilitated ideological slippages or disjunctions in the reception of films: audiences tended to appropriate pictures for their own purposes, which were often quite different than those intended by the filmmakers and production companies.

Nickelodeons created "the moviegoer"—a new kind of spectator who did not view the pictures in vaudeville formats, as one of many offerings at the local opera house, or as part of an outing to the summer park. To attract these often devoted patrons, storefront theaters found it profitable to change their offerings with increasing frequency. New programs were being offered twice a week in July 1905, and three changes each week were becoming common by late 1906.[7] During the following year, many nickelodeons began to change programs every day but Sunday.[8] The lateral expansion of motion picture houses across the country and this vertical increasing frequency of changing programs caused a tremendous demand for films.

Immense opportunities were created not only for exhibitors and producers but for film renters, who operated at the interface between production companies and exhibitors. In the historical model offered here, distribution is not seen as a fundamental aspect of cinema's production, like film production, exhibition, and viewing. The point at which film production and exhibition meet, however, becomes of central importance in a capitalist system. It can be likened to a fault line where two tectonic plates confront each other, creating large quantities of energy. Screen history suggests a "law": significant changes in either the mode of exhibition or the mode of film production will create new commercial opportunities at this interface. The nickelodeon boom was a revolution in exhibition on an unprecedented scale. Those who took advantage of this golden, fleeting opportunity were to later control the industry—William Fox, Marcus Loew, Carl Laemmle, and the Warner brothers. The rise of a new generation of film exchanges proved to be a crucial moment in the industry's history.

Chicago became the first and largest center for new film exchanges. Eugene Cline, Max Lewis's Chicago Film Exchange, and Robert Bachman's 20th Century Optiscope had become active film renters by 1905.[9] They were joined by William Swanson in the spring of 1906.[10] William Selig, who did not enter the rental business himself, aided Swanson financially. Carl Laemmle became unhappy with the high-handed treatment he received when renting films for his two Chicago theaters in mid 1906.[11] Rather than open more nickelodeons, Laemmle started his own exchange in October and attracted customers by of-


fering "service" as well as a reel of film.[12] The film rental business in New York was at least six months behind Chicago. The new generation of exchanges did not appear until early 1907. Nickelodeon manager William Fox, for example, only opened his Greater New York Film Rental Company in March 190.[13] Increasingly renters appeared in cities outside the traditional centers of New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

Thriving exchanges were hampered by a shortage of new pictures. When Laemmle listed popular subjects for rent in May 1907, he included some that were almost two years old—for example, Edison's The "White Caps " and The Watermelon Patch .[14] The demand for films encouraged several groups of film veterans to move into production. Vitagraph recognized the shifting realities of exhibition and greatly increased its fiction film production. It began to sell prints of these original subjects to other renters in September 1905.[15] In early January 1907 George Kleine joined with Samuel Long and Frank Marion, both of Biograph, to form the Kalem Company, which was incorporated in May and began to sell films in June.[16] At about the same time, George Spoor, who owned the Kinodrome Film Service and National Film Renting Bureau, joined with Gilbert M. Anderson, who was then directing for William Selig, and formed Essanay.[17] The large demand for film not only created incentives to start new production companies, it benefited established manufacturers such as Edison.

Edison Benefits from the Nickelodeon Craze

The Edison Manufacturing Company derived enormous profits from modest investments as the moving picture shows proliferated: sales of projecting kinetoscopes grew rapidly as new exhibitors purchased equipment. Gross income on equipment, which had increased 42 percent for 1904 and 52 percent for 1905, leaped 131 percent for 1906—to $182,135, with $87,228 profit, and jumped another 130 percent for 1907 to $418,893, with $220,622 profit. The Edison machine was known for its durability; its high quality and popularity owed much to Porter's technical improvements. The pattern for projector sales stood in marked contrast to film sales, which in 1906 grew 64 percent to $191,908, with $96,527 in profit, but stabilized in 1907, edging up only 7 percent to $205,243, with $116,912 profit.[18] The increase in 1906 was achieved by selling more copies of each subject. Not only did the Kinetograph Department fail to respond to mushrooming demand by increasing the production rate of new negatives, the number of new fiction narratives actually declined. During 1906 Porter and McCutcheon produced only ten features that were copyrighted and offered for sale through the Edison organization. The same pace continued into the following year, as only another four features were released onto the open market through July 1907, when Porter and his production staff moved to Edison's new indoor studio in the Bronx.

Sales on a per-film basis approximately doubled in 1906 over the previous


year. The most popular film of 1905, The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog , sold 92 prints during the year of its release, but Dream of a Rarebit Fiend sold 192 copies the following year. Other features sold between 52 and 146 copies. Older films continued to do well, their sales buoyed by the nickelodeons' need for product. With exchanges constantly complaining about the lack of new subjects, "it was necessary for a number of renters to purchase from manufacturers older subjects in order to supply the demands of the trade."[19] As a result, films made by Edison in 1904 sold more prints in 1906 than they had the previous year.[20] In April 1906 The Great Train Robbery was still considered the most popular film in distribution, showing the longevity of its appeal.[21]

Detailed records of the Kinetograph Department's finances survive for the 1906 business year, during which the cost of talent, properties, expenses, traveling, and so forth totaled $12,235, with negative costs averaging 81¢ per foot ($810 for a full 1,000-foot reel of film). The cost of producing a positive foot of film came to $.036, excluding negative costs, and $.0427 with the cost of negatives. The Edison Company produced 1,839,042 feet of finished film, which it sold at an average price of $.1027 per foot. Gross income from sales was $188,870. The potential profit margin, before deducting for general expenses such as advertising, salaries for the sales force, long-term investment, and general overhead, was exactly 6¢ per foot.[22]

The increase in Edison film sales for 1906 was remarkable, since the company continued to sell its product at a premium, giving an edge in pricing to competitors. As John Hardin, Edison's Chicago representative, told the home office: "Our 12¢ (per foot) price to the trade of course operates to a certain extent against our selling a large number of prints in competition to Pathe's and Vitagraph's prices, but at the same time if we have a sufficient supply to fill first orders when the new films first come out, we can dispose of a pretty fair number of prints, say from ten to twenty of a good subject at any time."[23] Although strong demand in the face of higher prices testifies to the continued popularity of Edison films, it also resulted from an industrywide product shortage.

Booming film sales kept Edison's factory for the manufacture of positive prints running at capacity. This allowed Porter to spend more time on individual films, to reduce his rate of production and thus to contradict the typical profit-maximizing response, which called for a rapid increase in production. Instead, Porter put greater emphasis on the elaborately wrought image, partially justifying the premium charge. Edison advertisements conveyed this attitude to potential purchasers:

Edison films are perfect in detail and action. No effort or expense is spared to produce THE BEST . The strictest attention is paid to details, situations, action and surroundings. We realize that Desperate Escaping Convicts and Pursuing Guards do NOT usually laugh; that Police Officers, after making an arrest, do not leave their clubs and helmets



Kathleen Mavourneen's house was burned in miniature.

behind them on the sidewalk, and that a Gale of Wind does not usually blow through private bedrooms.[24]

This ad from January 1906 compared Edison's carefully constructed, "realistic" films to several popular Vitagraph subjects. Vitagraph's "slapdash" methods often contributed vitality and spontaneity to the films, however, while also allowing for more rapid production.

Edison's new emphasis on the perfectly made, handcrafted image is apparent in Porter's The Night Before Christmas (December 1905), for which "the photographic and mechanical difficulties encountered and finally overcome if detailed would seem incredible." A panoramic view of Santa Claus driving "his reindeer over hills and mountains and over the moon" was done in the studio using miniatures of the sleigh and reindeer, an elaborately painted moving backdrop, and mechanical effects.[25] A copy of the film survives with different tints, allowing one to appreciate the complete visual impact. Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (February 1906), in which "some of the photographic 'stunts' have never been seen or attempted before,"[26] also reflected this new emphasis. Porter needed eight weeks to execute the array of special effects in this 470-foot, eight-minute film.

Porter's films grew more ambitious. Miniatures were also used for Dream of a Rarebit Fiend and for Kathleen Mavourneen (July 1906) when the heroine's house was burned for the camera. For Daniel Boone (December 1906) a log cabin set was built in Bronx Park, and Porter handpainted sections of the negative to create a fire effect. The "Teddy" Bears (February 1907), following the example of Vitagraph's A Midwinter Night's Dream , contains a sequence of object animation using stuffed bears: Porter worked eight-hour clays for a full week to shoot the necessary ninety feet of film.[27] Not all releases were produced with such attention to visual detail, but some—including Life of a Cowboy (May 1906), Kathleen Mavourneen , and Daniel Boone —presented complex narratives and large casts that required extensive preproduction.


Despite publicity, some Edison productions were made quickly and inexpensively, including Winter Straw Ride (March 1906), How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game (July 1906), and Honeymoon at Niagara Falls (August 1906). A few others—for example, The Terrible Kids (May 1906), Waiting at the Church (July 1906), and Getting Evidence (September 1906)—were made with care but without unusual effects, large casts, or far-off locations. Although the goal of the Kinetograph Department was to maximize sales on a per-film basis by offering a quality product, film sales indicate that the expense of "quality" could not be equated with popularity or high sales. The Night Before Christmas had sold 59 copies by March 1, 1907; Winter Straw Ride sold 57; Waiting at the Church , 52; and How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game , 59. Exchanges and exhibitors purchased 72 copies of Kathleen Mavourneen , 75 of Honeymoon at Niagara Falls , and 79 of Getting Evidence . Although the Edison Company sold 192 prints of Dream of a Rarebit Fiend and 109 of Life of a Cowboy , it also sold 146 copies of The Terrible Kids . A film's success had more to do with conception, timeliness, and ties to other kinds of popular and mass culture than to expenditures of time and money.

The Kinetograph Department altered some of its other practices in response to changing conditions in the industry. Porter's slow, if steady, move away from exhibitor-dominated cinema continued. The Kinetograph Department no longer sold individual scenes from acted subjects as it had done with How a French Nobleman Got a Wife . . . nor alternate combinations of scenes as with Life of an American Policeman .[28] Editing had become one of several procedures firmly integrated within the producers' repertoire. Efficiency was certainly one determinant in this development, since nonstandardization inhibited rapid print production at Edison's already overworked West Orange plant. The concept of film subjects as an interchangeable commodity also made such custom work inappropriate. Films were no longer sold to exhibitors—that is, to single users whose preferences might wisely and profitably be taken into account. Renters and exchanges now purchased the prints, rapidly circulating them to a variety of theaters. With purchasers no longer showing the films, the direct relationship between producer and exhibitor that had existed during the first ten years of the cinema was severed.

The Night Before Christmas also inaugurated a shift away from the socially relevant films that Porter had produced during 1904-5. The Edison films of 1906-7 were generally light entertainment, as the company favored subjects that had sold well during the previous year. Ten of the fourteen features made between December 1905 and June 1907 can be classified as comedies. Of the remainder, Life of a Cowboy, Kathleen Mavourneen , and Daniel Boone owed much to theatrical melodrama, while Lost in the Alps was a child-centered drama of a kind that had already proved its popularity. Regarding subject mat-


ter, Porter was probably working within limits imposed by his superiors, even though he retained considerable freedom within those limits.

Edison executives failed to capitalize fully on new opportunities within the industry. Rather than using all of its resources to respond to the nickelodeon's demand for product, the Edison Company continued to make films sponsored by outside firms. In January 1907 the popular singer Vesta Victoria was photographed in New York for the Novelty Song Film Company. That April Porter made a motion picture for the Colonial Virginia Company to be exhibited at the Jamestown Exposition. The film, which depicted the founding of Jamestown, required ten days of studio time, for which the client was billed $25 a day. For the entire production, the Kinetograph Department received $1,866.24.[29] In contrast, Life of a Cowboy generated over $11,000 in sales. Edison production efforts were further hampered in 1906 when Percival Waters' growing rental business expanded its Twenty-first Street offices at the expense of Porter's already cramped studio space.[30] Increasing the output of story films did not become a concern until the spring of 1907, in part because executives had not anticipated the high demand for prints and did not sufficiently enlarge their manufacturing capacities.[31] Nonetheless, R. K. Bonine, who was in charge of print production, worked as a traveling cameraman and was absent during much of 1906 and 1907. (His protracted absences, however, meant William Jamison usually assumed de facto responsibility.) In many areas of the Kinetograph Department, specialization was resisted and cost-efficiency studies were either not undertaken or ignored.

Edison's legal activities may have allayed any urgent desire to reorganize the company's production practices. After his motion picture patents case against the Biograph Company was dismissed in March 1902, Thomas Edison quickly applied for a patent reissue, which was granted on September 20, 1902.[32] One week later, Edison instituted new suits against Biograph, Selig, and Lubin.[33] Edison subsequently sued Georges Méliès, William Paley, Pathé Frères, and Eberhard Schneider on November 23, 1904.[34] Suit was also brought against Vitagraph in March 1905.[35] A year later Judge George W. Ray declared that the feeding device of the widely used 35mm Warwick camera was "different in principle and mode of operation from complainant's" and dismissed Edison's complaint against Biograph.[36] Edison lawyers appealed and won an important, if partial, victory in the court of appeals on March 5, 1907. Justices William J. Wallace, E. Henry Lacombe, and Alfred C. Coxe ruled that Edison's patents covered the standard camera used by most production companies but did not cover the special biograph camera used by the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company.[37] A complete victory either way would have sent the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but this partial victory gave both sides what they needed most—a recognition of their patents. Biograph was finally freed from Edison's


legal harassments, and Edison had a ruling that strengthened his clout over other infringers. The New York Times assumed that this would enable Edison to soon eliminate most of his competitors (see document no. 18). The possibility that Edison might be able to dominate the industry through patents encouraged company executives to neglect other commercial opportunities.



The moving picture business of the whole United States, which has grown to enormous proportions in the last few years, is affected by the decision of the United States Court of Appeals in deciding on March 6th that the moving picture apparatus of all the numerous companies in this country, with one exception, is an infringement on the patents covered by the Edison Co. .

For over four years litigation has been in progress over the use of the special sprocket movement of the Edison apparatus, which is the vital part of the moving picture machine. This allows the film that is being drawn through a machine to stop for a small fraction of time, say a thirty-fifth of a second, and no other means has yet been discovered that will answer the purpose.

It is said that many of the concerns making moving pictures will have to go out of business by reason of the decision. Owing to the demand, it is said that companies left in control of the field will be utterly unable to supply the wants of houses exhibiting moving pictures. Until they can catch up on their orders the exhibition houses will have to go out of business.

SOURCE : New York Times , March 9, 1907, p. 2.

Since the late 1890s Edison's legal activities had created a high level of uncertainty throughout the American industry and so discouraged investment. As this continued into the nickelodeon era, underfinanced American film manufacturers could not keep up with the demands for new product. Nonetheless, they responded more effectively than Edison. Once Vitagraph began to sell films in September 1905, production averaged about two headliners a month—more than twice the Edison rate. In March 1907 Vitagraph expanded to three and soon four important subjects a month. Sigmund Lubin increased production in mid 1906. By the summer of 1907 he, too, was approaching one new subject a


week. Selig was releasing about one feature a month by the second part of 1906. By mid 1907 the Chicago filmmaker had doubled that rate.[38] Although Biograph's legal position was the strongest, the firm faced financial difficulty. Filmmaking was seriously disrupted when Wallace McCutcheon departed for the Edison Company in spring 1905. After its new production head, Frank Marion, resumed regular production that July, Biograph averaged two features a month. Marion's departure for Kalem in January 1907, however, sent Biograph reeling. Although the firm still managed to turn out film subjects, few were popular, and Biograph was unable to pay interest on its loans.[39]

Since Edison's patent litigation threatened American producers more than their foreign competitors, it greatly facilitated foreign domination of the American screen. Films made by Pathé, Méliès, Gaumont, Urban-Eclipse, Nordisk, Italian "Cinès," and many other European companies poured into the United States, where they were purchased by product-hungry exchanges. In a statistical analysis of films released in the United States during the last ten months of 1907, Lawrence Karr found only 364 of 1,092 to be of American make.[40] While sales for some foreign imports were small, most films projected in American theaters were European. Moreover, Pathé firmly established itself as the dominant force in American cinema during 1906-7.[41]

Edison's desire to control the growing deluge of foreign, particularly Pathé, films, in conjunction with Pathé's anxiety over Edison's strong legal position, encouraged active negotiations between the two concerns early in 1907. As F. Croydon Marks, Edison's Paris-based negotiator, wrote to general manager Gilmore in April, Pathé Frères "are so busy at their works that they would be glad (if they could see themselves making the same money and with the same prospects of business) to be relieved of the control of the American territory."[42] Although the Pathé brothers did not make a formal offer, they expected to receive ten dollars per meter of negative and an additional royalty on prints. Finally they insisted that Edison "must undertake to buy one of all their films they now produce leaving it to us [Edison] whether we would make any positives or reproductions from them or not."[43] Since the cost of Pathé negatives was more than three times what Edison was then paying to produce its own films, Pathé's offer was not greeted with much enthusiasm.

Edison's March court victory may have convinced Gilmore that there were more effective ways for Edison to gain control over the American industry. His counter offer was simply to pay Pathé a per-foot royalty on prints sold.[44] Pathé felt that they had been led astray and that Edison had never intended to conduct serious negotiations. As Charles Pathé wrote in May,

Although we are glad of the opportunity we have had of making your personal acquaintance, you will allow us to express our regret at the want of commercial courtesy which the Edison Company has shown towards our company.


We cannot withhold from you that the refusal you have intimated to us might have been made a month and a half earlier, which would have prevented our Company from losing through it some hundred thousands of francs.[45]

Negotiations delayed Pathé's plans to open American printing facilities that would have reduced their costs approximately two cents for every foot of film sold.

When Gilmore tried to reopen negotiations, Pathé refused. Subsequently writing from Europe, Edison's general manager claimed to be relieved:

I find that the conditions are even worse than we ever suspected. They are putting out on the continent pictures that are not only nude but absolutely prohibitive from our standpoint. . . .

What we want to do is go ahead with our own lines. As Mr. Edison has well said, these outside entanglements do not prove to be of value, and I am firmly convinced that he is right in the conclusion. What Mr. Moore wants to do now is to push ahead the new studio, get out our own subjects and I am satisfied that we will be able to hold our own, not only in the American field but elsewhere.[46]

Whatever Gilmore may have truly felt about Pathé, the Edison Manufacturing Company found itself on the commercial defensive by spring 1907. Other companies had taken better advantage of the rapidly changing conditions within the motion picture industry.

Production Practices at Edison

Edison production practices remained the virtual antithesis of the studio system that would develop in response to the nickelodeon boom. The informal, sometimes haphazard collaboration that had characterized the making of The Buster Brown Series (1904) continued as Porter and McCutcheon produced Daniel Boone; or, Pioneer Days in America in December 1906. Florence Lawrence, who played Boone's daughter in her first screen appearance, subsequently detailed the production process and underscored these continuities (see document no. 19). Rather than having a continuous production schedule, the Edison staff geared up for each new undertaking. The Kinetograph Department lacked a stock company and hired actors on a per-film basis. Porter frequently relied on traveling theatrical troupes to supply performers who had worked together and could contribute costumes and props. In the case of Daniel Boone , actors were not from Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, as Lawrence recalled (it was then in Europe), but from the spectacle Pioneer Days , which opened at the Hippodrome on November 28, 1906, and ran through December and into January.[47] This meant that they had other commitments: on matinee days, filming was precluded. Other actors, such as Lawrence, were hired through casting calls. Production personnel also continued to be used in bit parts, for which they



Daniel Boone. Boone's daughter (Florence Lawrence) befriends an Indian maid in the first scene. Later,
 Daniel Boone and his companion swear vengeance in front of the hero's burned house.

received double pay as a bonus. Appearing in a picture was a way for everyone to pick up some extra cash: it was not a primary commitment. Production schedules were dictated by the availability of performers rather than the reverse.


My mother heard that Edwin S. Porter, then the chief producer and manager at the Edison studio on Twenty-first street, was engaging people to appear in an historical play. I decided to see him at once. My mother accompanied me to the studio.

The news of intended activity on the part of the Edison people must have been pretty generally known, for there were some twenty or thirty actors and actresses ahead of us that cold morning. I think it was on December 27th, 1906. At least it was during the holidays. Everybody was trying to talk to Mr. Porter at one time, and a Mr. Wallace McCutcheon, who was directing Edison pictures under Mr. Porter, was fingering three or four sheets of paper, which I found later were the scenario.

Mr. Porter and Mr. McCutcheon conferred together and Mr. Porter announced that only twelve people were needed for the entire cast, and that some of these had been engaged. He next read off some notes he had made during his conference with Mr. McCutcheon, about as follows:

One character man who can make up to look like Daniel Boone.

One character man to play Daniel Boone's companion.

One middle aged woman to play Mrs. Daniel Boone.

Two young girls about sixteen years old to play Daniel Boone's daughters.

(Text box continued on next page)


One young girl who can make up like an Indian maid.

Six men who can make up as Indians.

The part of Daniel Boone, his companion, the Indian maid and a couple of the bloodthirsty savages, he announced, had been filled. That left the parts of Mrs. Boone, the two Boone girls, and four Indians open. As I remember, Col. Cody's Buffalo Bill show was then in New York City and the people selected to play the parts he announced as "filled" were from the show.

Mr. McCutcheon looked at me, then at Mr. Porter and I was told that I was engaged as one of Daniel Boone's daughters. I must have said something to mother almost instantaneously, for one of the men, I forget which, asked, "Is this your mother?" I replied that she was, and Mr. Porter thereupon engaged her to play the part of Mrs. Daniel Boone.

Our names and addresses were taken and we were told "that was all" for the time being, and that we would be notified when to report at the studio. We were to receive five dollars a day for every day that we worked.

There was none in the cast who knew the title of the play until we reported for work on January 3, 1907. At this stage of the motion picture industry the producers were very secretive about such matters. "Daniel Boone; or Pioneer Days in America," was announced as the name of the play. We began work on the exterior scenes first.

Besides mother and myself, others who were playing the principal roles were Susanna Willis, and Mr. and Mrs. William Craver. Mr. Porter and Mr. McCutcheon were the directors. It was during the production of this picture that I learned that the photoplay "Moonshiners," which I had witnessed some three or four years previously, was the first dramatic moving picture ever made in America, and that Mr. McCutcheon was the man who directed it.

All of the exterior scenes for the Daniel Boone picture were photographed in Bronx Park. As one of Boone's daughters I was required to escape from the Indian camp and dash madly into the forest, ride through streams and shrubbery, until I came upon Daniel Boone's companion. As a child I was fond of horses and had always prided myself on being able to handle them, but the horse hired by Mr. Porter was evidently of a wilder breed than the ones I knew. I couldn't do anything with him and he ran off no less than five times during the two weeks we were making the exterior scenes. I was not thrown once, however.

During all this time the thermometer stood at zero. We kept a bonfire going most of the time, and after rehearsing a scene, would have to warm ourselves before the scene could be done again for the camera. Sometimes we would have to wait for two or three hours for the sun to come out or

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get it just right for the taking of a scene which required certain effects. The camera was also a bother being a great clumsy affair.

One afternoon we didn't pay sufficient attention to the bonfire and permitted it to spread. The fire department had to be called out to prevent its burning and ruining all the trees in the park. While beating the blaze away from a tree Mr. Porter discovered a man who had committed suicide by hanging himself, probably while we were working on the picture. We did not do any further work that day.

All the interior scenes were made at the Edison studio, on the roof, where the stage space would accommodate but one set. We could only work while there was sunlight as arc lamps had not then been thought of as an aid to motion picture photography. Three weeks were required to complete the picture.

SOURCE : Photoplay , November 1914, pp. 40-41. Tom Gunning generously brought this article to my attention. Florence Lawrence's dates are incorrect: the completed film was copyrighted on January 3, 1907. William Craver had supplied the horses for Porter in the somewhat earlier Life of a Cowboy (May 1906), and he probably did so for this film too, as well as appearing in it (Moving Picture World , December 7, 1912, p. 961).

A lack of efficiency was evident in several areas. The decision to film Daniel Boone , ill suited for winter production, suggests an absence of careful planning. But whatever Porter chose to make, productivity slowed each winter when the days grew short. Stormy weather would also have precluded shooting. Unlike the Biograph studio, Edison's Twenty-first Street facilities lacked electric lights, not because Porter was indifferent to the technology, but because the small, glass-enclosed studio could not accommodate them. Despite such obstacles, the three-week shooting schedule for Daniel Boone was still extremely protracted. (Two years later, Griffith would handle the same type of story in a few days.) Characteristically, Porter focused on visual details rather than the major thrust of the narrative. With only a few daylight hours available for filming, time spent on achieving photographic effects was costly and not always successful. Rather than reconceive the more time-consuming setups, Porter adapted the production schedule to his filmmaking goals.

Porter and McCutcheon relied on collaborative, nonspecialized working methods. Although Porter was studio manager, he worked with the sets and operated the camera, while McCutcheon was in charge of the actors. America's top two filmmakers from the pre-nickelodeon era thus worked in tandem rather than establishing separate production units or a clear hierarchy. Decisions were made laterally rather than vertically. Both men, in fact, were accustomed to operating in this manner. Porter had collaborated with George S. Fleming, James White, and G. M. Anderson, while McCutcheon had worked closely with Frank Marion.

The Daniel Boone scenario was a joint responsibility and reflected the Porter-


McCutcheon partnership. Like many films, it emerged from a melange of precursors. Only part of the film's title and not the plot was taken from the Shubert spectacle. The picture was an adaptation of Daniel Boone: On the Trail , one of several Daniel Boone plays written and produced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[48] At the same time, Daniel Boone; or, Pioneer Days in America owes much to two McCutcheon/Biograph films: The Pioneers and Kit Carson . The focus on family, not as central to McCutcheon's earlier dramas, places Daniel Boone squarely within Porter's family-centered orientation.

Porter's old middle-class predilections remained as apparent in his production methods as in the themes and subject matter of his earlier films. Although the New York studio was called a factory, the manufacturing division of labor was not in evidence. Porter insisted on acting as producer, scenarist, cameraman, and editor. Beyond this he was also involved in refining the projecting kinetoscope and the construction of Edison's new Bronx studio. (Bronx Park was chosen as a location for Daniel Boone because it was nearby.) As George Blaisdell defined Porter's role, "During this period he made all the pictures, built and designed the cameras, wrote many of the scenarios, staged all the productions and operated the camera. He did in fact produce the pictures."[49]

The Issue of Narrative Clarity—Audience Familiarity

The Edison Manufacturing Company's continued reliance on pre-nickelodeon production practices was not confined to filmmaking as such, but included the ways that viewers were expected to understand the resulting subjects. Methods of reception or appreciation remained much as they had been since the late 1890s. Representational practices fell into three basic categories, with the basis for comprehension centered either in the spectator, the exhibitor, or the film itself. None of these dominated or was necessarily preferred. In fact, they were complementary and often interdependent. All involved redundancy in different forms.

Porter and his contemporaries continued to rely on audience awareness of hits, crazes, and well-known stories within popular culture. This meant a different relationship between audience and cultural object than in more elevated culture, where narratives were usually presented with the assumption that audiences were encountering them for the first time. The Night Before Christmas (December 1905) "closely follows the time honored Christmas legend by Clement Clarke Moore, and is sure to appeal to everyone-both old and young."[50] Lines from the poem were used to introduce several scenes, helping the audience to maintain a conscious correspondence between the screen drama and the book, continuing a representational practice evident in Uncle Tom's Cabin . Relying on the audience's previous knowledge of Moore's poem, Porter established the necessary narrative clarity even while instilling a degree of nostalgia for lost childhoods. The film's success depended primarily on the spectacle and



Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, scenes 2, 4, and 6.

novelty of Porter's execution—on the way he told a familiar story, not on the novelty of the story itself.

The next Edison film, Dream of a Rarebit Fiend , was partially inspired by Winsor McCay's comic strip "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend," which had appeared in the New York Telegram since 1904.[51] Porter not only borrowed the title but shared McCay's dream-based narrative structure, elements that had already figured in Biograph's somewhat earlier Dream of the Race-Track Fiend (September 1905). Likewise, the Edison film convincingly realized McCay's surreal imagery on the screen using a variety of photographic tricks—an achievement not attempted in the earlier Biograph film. Although such visuals had many antecedents, Porter may have found another McCay strip, "Little Nemo in Slumberland," a useful point of departure. The basic story line and some of the film's visuals, however, can be found in an earlier Pathé film made by Gaston Velle—Rêve à la lune (1905):

A brave drunkard is surrounded by gigantic bottles in human form, with which he executes a wild, disorderly quadrille. Next he sleeps. . . . He fancies himself in a public square under the kindly gaze of the moon, with which he immediately falls in love.


He wishes to reach it and, to do this, grabs onto a lamp post. But the moon is still too far away. Our man does not hesitate but jumps the wall of a nearby house. . . . Not without several pitfalls, he reaches the roof of the house, on which he has difficulty maintaining his balance, for there are several close calls when he could have been hurled down into the void. He falls while crossing an attic window and disturbs the neighbors.

But our obstinate drunkard still wants to catch the moon. He leans against a chimney-flue, which wobbles on its base. Suddenly a hurricane appears and carries our man into space, always riding the flue. He covers many miles, crossing the clouds while the storm rages around him. He is in outer space, about to catch the object of his desire. The moon itself awaits his efforts, approaches him and extends its hospitality to him. He resolutely enters the brilliant star and penetrates its mouth. But the moon does not seem to take warmly to the visitor, for after several expressions of distaste, it spits the poor drunkard into space, and we see him rapidly tumble toward earth to end up finally in his bed, where he immediately awakens from his strange dream.[52]

Porter's use of the McCay title not only provided a frame of reference that helped audiences understand the dream transitions but obscured his borrowings from the Velle narrative. Familiarity with the McCay comic strip was not as necessary to audience understanding of the narrative as it was for many other films. In this respect, Dream of a Rarebit Fiend conforms to more modern expectations of adaptation.[53]

The film begins with a medium shot of the fiend consuming large amounts of alcohol and Welsh rarebit. For subsequent scenes, Porter employed a different special effect for each shot, keeping the spectator off balance and making it impossible for the average viewer to figure out how the photographic stunts were achieved. The second shot was a double-exposure, superimposing the fiend and a swinging white lamppost against rapidly panning, zigzagging camerawork of New York City streets. It suggested the subjective sensation of the fiend's predicament without being a point-of-view shot. When the man enters his bedroom (scene 3) invisible strings drag his shoes across the floor and stop action causes the furniture to disappear. The fourth scene uses a split-screen effect—juxtaposing a close-up of the sleeping fiend with a far shot of people in devils' costumes, making it appear that they are hitting him on the head with forks and shovels. When Porter cuts back to the room, it is a miniature that allows the filmmaker to manipulate the bed in astonishing ways. The sixth scene uses another type of split screen as the fiend's bed travels across the skyline of New York. Scene 7 uses a drawn background and cut-outs. Scene 8 is a studio close-up of a steeple on which the fiend is skewered. The final scene returns to the bedroom as the dreamer crashes through the roof and wakes up. The changing tricks and discontinuities disorient the spectators in ways analogous to dream, particularly the dreams portrayed in Winsor McCay's comic strips.

The Terrible Kids (April 1906) was part of the widespread comic depiction of undersocialized youth. In the cinema, the popular bad boy genre would soon



This Winsor McCay cartoon strip shares many similarities with Dream of a Rarebit Fiend.
 Little Nemo's dream, however, is caused by too many donuts.



The "terrible kids" and their faithful dog wreak havoc on the adult world.

come under heavy criticism for providing young viewers with undesirable role models. Porter's comedy shows two boys disrupting a neighborhood's routine with the help of their dog, played by Mannie. Every scene is a variation on a mischievous prank: Mannie "jumps onto the Chinaman's back, seizes his queue and drags the poor chink to the ground"; when they encounter a billposter on a ladder, the dog "grabs the billposter by the leg of his trousers and he falls to the ground with the ladder on top of him while the kids enjoy the billposter's predicament."[54] Several women and an Italian apple vendor with a push cart are also victims. Eventually these annoyed adults turn pursuers and capture the two pranksters with the help of the police. As the boys are driven off in the police van, Mannie opens the van door, and the kids escape as the film ends.

Delinquent kids appear constantly in early film comedies. James Williamson's The Dear Boys Home for the Holidays (1903) and Our New Errand Boy (1905), Biograph's The Truants (1907) and Terrible Ted (1907); Pathé's Les Petits Vagabonds (1905), and Porter's own The Little Train Robbery (1905) are just a few additional examples of the bad boy genre. Others such as Biograph's Foxy Grandpa Series (1902) and Edison's Buster Brown Series (1904) had comic strip antecedents and also became plays. The Amusement Supply Company offered a full program of five films and fifty-two "life model" stereopticon slides on Peck's Bad Boy and His Pa , which were meant to illustrate the best-selling book of the same title.[55] In all of these films one or two boys disrupt staid adult life and undermine authority. While Foxy Grandpa outwits the boys on their own terms (showing that the child exists in all of us and that Grandpa is entering a second childhood), more often than not the adults are easily fooled.

The relationship of The Terrible Kids to similar films (and to the bad boy genre in other popular forms) was an essential part of the film's meaning. Since the boys in these films were anonymous, intertextual and intratextual redun-


dancy were essentially of the same kind. The audience's frequent encounters with similar texts provided the reassurance of familiarity. Audiences were expected to identify and sympathize with the kids, suggesting a nostalgic desire for a simpler, less regimented past. According to the catalog description of The Terrible Kids , "The antics of the kids, the almost human intelligence of 'Mannie' and the narrow escapes from capture, are a source of constant amusement and are sure to arouse a strong sympathy for the kids and their dog."[56] The genre savors the rejection of authority even as it offers a momentary release from the increasingly regimented workplace. The bad boys escape at the end of both The Terrible Kids and The Little Train Robbery —as if to appear in some other film.

While scanning the newspapers of this period, one constantly stumbles across antecedents for American films. This suggests that virtually every film functioned within a well-established intertextual context. Even a film with as simple and obvious a narrative as How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game conformed to a popular stereotype. Released in July 1906, much of the subject was recycled from Play Ball , a topical film Porter had shot the previous year on opening day of the National League baseball season. A week after that game, the New York World published a full-page photograph of the crowd with the caption, "If your office boy or any of your clerks had sudden calls to the funerals of grandmothers or uncles on that memorable Saturday perhaps you might shed a little light on the matter by a close scrutiny of this picture."[57] This caption articulated the premise of Porter's film. In a small office, the lady stenographer writes a note for the office boy that reads "Dear Teddy: Come home at once. Grandma is dead." The boss accepts the excuse and the office boy has a free afternoon to see the game. The young lady stenographer faints in disbelief when the boss falls for the explanation. The bookkeeper is told to escort her home. Left alone, the broker also decides to take the afternoon off and see the game. The remainder of the film intercuts Teddy on a telephone pole looking through a spyglass with masked point-of-view shots of the game—including a view of the boss discovering the stenographer and bookkeeper in the stands (the matte, as was customary, was added at the printing stage). For a short time they are all kids again, playing hooky from adult responsibility. Unlike Teddy, whose skylarking remains undetected and hence unpunished, the stenographer and bookkeeper are reprimanded by authority. They play by some rules (they pay to see the game) but not others. Teddy, safe on his distant perch, does not pay to see the game (either with money or by suffering the boss's wrath). Like the "terrible kids," he can disregard societal rules and get away with it—something adult characters seldom succeed in doing.

In How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game , Porter celebrates baseball as a unifying activity that cuts across age and class barriers. Movie patrons are encouraged to recall their childhoods nostalgically, for they see the game through



The office boy sees not only the ballgame but his boss lecturing the bookkeeper and stenographer for attending the game.

the office boy's spyglass—from his point of view. The spectator, however, regresses nostalgically to his childhood. Gender is presumed to be male—like the filmmaker and the office boy. As Adrienne Harris has pointed out, "Baseball is centrally a place without time and without women."[58] In 1906 the game reflected the male-dominated world in which and about which Porter and others made their films. Whether the stenographer is in the office or at the ballgame, her position is in the margins. She never speaks in her own voice. She writes Teddy's note—signing someone else's name, and her main job is to record the male boss's words. Even when she faints, it only becomes an excuse for the bookkeeper to escape as well. Likewise in baseball, if a woman speaks, Harris suggests, it will be as "a false mock male self."[59] In How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game , the boy's point-of-view shots of the game reproduce the male-fetishized close-up of the woman's ankle in The Gay Shoe Clerk , but in an appropriate latency-age form. Women spectators of both The Terrible Kids and How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game are likewise forced to assume the role of a false mock male self to enjoy the films in the spirit in which they were made.



Obadiah Binks tries to elude his family, and his jilted bride is left "waiting at the church."

While The Terrible Kids conformed to a genre diffused throughout Western popular and mass culture and How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game was based on a generalized, urban American witticism about office boys and ballgames, Waiting at the Church (July 1906) required spectators to be familiar with the lyrics of one specific song, a hit popularized by Vesta Victoria (see document no. 20). As one vaudeville manager noted, "to those who know the song, this is extremely funny."[60] The film itself was described in Views and Film Index :


Obadiah Binks is sitting on a bench in the park. A young lady strolls along and finally seats herself very comfortably on the same bench. Before long they engage in conversation and Obadiah proposes. At first she is surprised by the very sudden announcement of his love for her, but she suddenly falls upon his neck and hugs and kisses are mutual. He declares his love for her and they agree upon a date to get married.

Obadiah's home is then shown. Finally the young lady is seen waiting at the church for Obadiah. He does not come but sends a messenger with a note in which he states, "Can't get away to marry you today: my wife won't let me."[61]

This brief trade description passes over Porter's elaboration of the song's simple story. Porter did more than merely illustrate the song. Although the original lyrics are from the woman's point of view, the film shifts the focus to Obadiah Binks. No longer a con artist who robs a naive, sexually frustrated woman of her money, Obadiah is portrayed as a zany bigamist trying to outwit one wife so that he can marry a second. The discrepancy between the lyrics and the film narrative is an essential part of the picture's humor. The film's farcical tone is retained, but the story is explored from a new perspective.




Written by Fred W. Leigh Composed by Henry E. Pether Published by Francis, Day and Hunter [New York, 1906]

1. I'm in a nice bit of trouble

Somebody with me has had a game

I should by now be a proud and happy bride

But I've still got to keep my single name

I was proposed to by Obadiah Binks

In a very gentlemanly way

Lent him all my money so that he could buy the home

And punctually at twelve o'clock today


There was I waiting at the church

Waiting at the church,

When I found he'd left me in the lurch

Lot, how it did upset me!

All at once he sent me round a note

Here's the very note

This is what he wrote

Can't get away to marry you today

My wife won't let me.

2. Lor, what a fuss Obadiah made of me

When he used to take me to the Park

He use to squeeze me till I was black and blue.

When he kissed me he used to leave a mark.

Each time he met me he treated me to wine

Took me now and then to see the play

Understand me rightly when I say he treated me

It wasn't him but me that use to pay.

Just think of how disappointed I must feel

I'll be going crazy very soon

I've lost my husband the one I never had

And I dreamed so about my honeymoon!

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I'm looking for another Obadiah

I've already bought the wedding ring

There's all my little faltheriddles packed in my box

Yes, absolutely two of everything.

With Waiting at the Church , Porter used redundancy in several different ways. The song's familiarity was incorporated into the psychology of the characters as well as the narrative. When Obadiah is chased by his wife and children, they seem to have gone through this routine before. Determined to keep the family together and knowing what to expect, they prevent him from reaching his would-be bride "waiting at the church." Actions and situations are also repeated through the use of similar chase scenes. Like the chorus of the song itself, redundancy is the central organizing principle of the film.

The "Teddy" Bears was not only one of Porter's personal favorites but serves as a rich, revealing example of the filmmaker's work in the early nickelodeon era.[62] Advertised as "a laughable satire on the popular craze,"[63] Porter and McCutcheon's first film of 1907 was completed in late February. The juxtaposition of two different referents is an important element of The "Teddy" Bears ' humor and success. It starts out as an adaptation of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" and works within the framework of the fairy-tale film. For the first two-thirds of its running time, the life-sized teddy bears (actors in costume) are the subject of an endearing children's film. Suddenly the picture moves outside the confines of the studio, changing moods and referents. The bears chase Goldilocks across a snowy landscape until "Teddy" Roosevelt intervenes, kills the two full-grown pursuers, and captures the baby bear.

The sudden appearance of "Teddy" was based on a well-known incident when President Roosevelt was on a hunting expedition in Mississippi and refused to shoot a bear cub. This was in November 1902. Shortly thereafter Morris Michtom, a Russian immigrant who ran a small toy store and would eventually start the Ideal Toy Corporation, began to make and sell "Teddy's bear"—a stuffed version of the spared cub. The novelty had become a craze by 1906-7, when thousands of toy bears were being sold each week and music such as "The Teddy Bear March" (copyrighted 1907) was popular.[64] Unless audiences appreciated the shift in referents, the killing of the two endearing bears seemed bizarre and at odds with the earlier part of the film. Sime Silverman missed the point in his Variety review when he wrote:

Probably based on the fairy tale of "Goldielocks and the Three Bears," The Teddy Bears series at the Colonial this week is made enjoyable through the mechanical acrobatic antics of a group of fluffy haired little hand-made animals. The closing pictures



The "Teddy" Bears unexpectedly shifts moods from animated stuffed animals in the first part to the
 killing of anthropomorphic bears in the second. Porter also juxtaposed location shots with exterior 
scenes set in the studio.

showing the pursuit of the child by the bear family is spoiled through a hunter appearing on the scene and shooting two. Children will rebel against this position. Considerable comedy is had through a chase in the snow, but the live bears seemed so domesticated that the deliberate murder in an obviously "faked" series left a wrong taste of the picture as a whole.[65]

Not everyone agreed with Sime.[66] The shift in referents revealed to the audience that The "Teddy" Bears was not simply a children's film, but was also aimed, like Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland , at adults. By judging the film from the viewpoint of a child, who could not be expected to grasp a range of contemporary references, Sime postulated a relation between viewer and cultural object that would be more applicable to later cinema. In fact, his review is one of several indications that criteria for assessing films were changing and that subjects relying on an audience's prior familiarity with narrative elements were being received with less sympathy.

The "Teddy" Bears is a political burlesque on Teddy Roosevelt, reminiscent of Terrible Teddy, the Grizzly King and The Strenuous Life; or, Anti-Race Suicide . As Sime noted, the bear family's anthropomorphic activities have endeared the animals to the audience by the time the Roosevelt hunter appears on


the scene. Audiences then tend to react unsympathetically to his shooting of the two adult bears. The liberal press sometimes expressed a similar viewpoint. After Roosevelt killed a she bear in 1907, the New York World responded with a front-page column devoted to the critical remarks of nature writer Dr. William J. Long. Headlines read: "Calls Roosevelt Bear Killing Pure Brute Cowardice."[67]

Porter's continuing commitment to pre-nickelodeon representational strategies is also evidenced in the shot construction of The "Teddy" Bears . The film has eighteen shots: the first thirteen and the last were taken in the studio, while the four chase scenes were photographed outside in a city park. Although Griffith was to shoot interiors in the studio and exteriors on location on a regular basis by 1909, Porter never developed this convention of consistent mimetic realism, at least in his Edison films. From our post-Griffith perspective, studio scenes of the bear-house exterior are at odds with those photographed in the park. Although this syncretism can feel misplaced or naive today, Porter's studio work was generally motivated by a desire for greater control over the mise-en-scène. Correspondingly, Porter's frequent reliance on the chase encouraged location shooting and prevented films from becoming claustrophobic.

Shots continued to be conceived as discrete units in The "Teddy" Bears , even though editorial control was firmly in Porter's hands. As before, each scene has its own self-enclosed temporality, which is related to outgoing and incoming shots by repeated actions and the unfolding story. Goldilocks' exit through a hallway (shot 7) is followed by an entrance into the bedroom (shot 8), another example of Porter's familiar uses of the temporal overlap. There is no matching action or linear continuity. Mismatches in screen direction and conflicting entrances and exits further reveal the discrete nature of individual scenes. The "Teddy" Bears makes rich and effective use of a representational system Porter had explored and developed since his arrival at Edison. Within this system, he continued to mature as a filmmaker.

Porter drew on the same repertoire of techniques in Cohen's Fire Sale (June 1907), which focuses on a Jewish milliner whose merchandise is inadvertently taken away by a garbage man and ends up in the city dump. The shopkeeper recoups his investment by starting a small fire in his store and covering the damage through insurance. He benefits still further by a fire sale, which quickly clears the store of imperfect goods. The story is based on the stereotypical Jewish businessman for whom fire was "our friend" and the fire company was "our enemy"—a view rendered in iconographic form on a comic postcard of the period. The story itself is quite simple and clearly depicted; but character motivation, narrative logic, and audience comprehension of a few key pieces of information—for instance that a piece of paper is an insurance policy—relies on this highly specific anti-Semitic stereotyping. Here redundancy reinforces those ethnic prejudices that audiences initially relied on to understand the film.



An anti-Semitic "comic" postcard of the period.

Cohen's Fire Sale integrates pasteboard representations and actual objects in extreme ways. Hats in the foreground of Cohen's display are real—those in the background are painted. Cohen's sleeping cat suddenly becomes a pasteboard animal when its tail is tied to the kerosene lamp. Though these syncretic juxtapositions differ little from Porter's set-design strategies in The Finish of Bridget McKeen (1901), the quality and detail of execution have improved. Again the exterior of Cohen's store is a set, while other scenes were filmed on New York City streets. Scenes of a fire truck coming out of the station and of the firefighting are actuality material, taken of a fire company in action. Like Porter's previous work, Cohen's Fire Sale incorporates a diversity of mimetic representations and undercuts any notion of a seamless continuity. Shots continue to act as self-contained units of representation in other ways as well. Chase scenes integrate narrative elements like the pursuing shopkeeper with superfluous incidents that had appeared in turn-of-the-century, one-shot films. In one scene, for instance, street gamins wear some of Cohen's misplaced hats and dance a cakewalk until Cohen arrives to take away the headwear.

Porter's construction of shots and his frequent reliance on audience familiarity with a film's subject were part of the same representational system. If one shot did not follow clearly after another or if extraneous elements were introduced, audiences had a frame of reference that allowed them to fill in gaps or follow the narrative's main line. If spectators lacked the necessary frame of reference, they missed the joke or could not follow the story line. Novelty of



Cohen tries to sell his damaged goods.

execution and familiarity of subject matter were the basis of this approach. Although Porter's reliance on the audience's prior knowledge was extreme for the period, it nonetheless characterized and crystalized the distinctive elements of this period's representational system.

Self-Sufficient Narratives and Intratextual Redundancy

Narrative clarity was often achieved through intratextual redundancy. Two common structuring principles proved especially efficacious in this respect: first, discrete scenes could be gathered around a unifying theme or character; second, as a corollary, scenes could be built around a chase. Redundancy of situation, which Porter had used in The Buster Brown Series and The Seven Ages , was also utilized for comedies like The Nine Lives of a Cat (July 1907) and The Rivals (August 1907). After evoking the age-old adage about cats with its title, The Nine Lives of a Cat proceeds to show nine unsuccessful attempts to eliminate an uncooperative feline. The Rivals , based on a comic strip by T. E. Powers that ran in the New York American ,[68] showed two male rivals fighting over the attentions of a desirable woman. In one scene Charlie escorts Tootsie, only to have her stolen away by George. In the next scene George escorts the girl, only



The Rivals (left): a romantic triangle that soon self-destructs. It was based on a cartoon series (above).

to have her stolen away by Charlie. This continued until Porter had the desired number of scenes. To achieve closure, he had the woman leave both rivals for a third. The organizing principle of such films was indebted to the repetitive structures of daily and weekly comic strips. (The strip alternated combinations each week.) Repetition with slight variation is the basis for their comedy. Similar structures occur in somewhat later Porter/Edison films like Laughing Gas (November 1907) and The Merry Widow Waltz Craze (April 1908).

While the chase also utilizes a repetitive structure, it achieved added levels of


clarity by setting up a simple opposition between pursuer and pursued that could be expressed compositionally by foregrounding first one group and then the next, and through movement, as the pursued and pursuers come toward and past the camera. Although Porter made a few simple chase films such as From Rector's to Claremont , he soon combined the chase with other forms of in-tratextual redundancy, as in "Raffies "—the Dog (June 1905), The Terrible Kids , and Getting Evidence .

In Getting Evidence (September 1906), a jealous husband visits the Hawk-shaw Detective Agency (a redundant naming device in its own right) and asks the detective to obtain evidence of his wife's supposed infidelities. Only a photograph is deemed acceptable evidence and the private eye's attempts to secure it provide a series of comic incidents. The detective becomes a surrogate authority figure with the right to pry. Soon he is pursuing a woman he believes to be the man's wife. Each time he takes a picture of the woman and her lover, his camera is destroyed and he is roughed up. He is run over by a car; when posing as the couple's waiter, he is doused with seltzer. When the determined photographer sneaks up on the romantic couple at night and uses a flash, his subjects destroy the camera once again. At the seashore he takes a successful picture, hides the negative and then "is pursued by a crowd, caught and ducked thoroughly in the surf."[69] When the black-eyed, limping detective finally presents his evidence to the husband, his photograph is of the daughter rather than the wife.

Rather than providing evidence against the wife, the photograph exposes the detective's incompetence and the husband's unfounded suspicions. As Alan Trachtenberg points out, the authority of the patriarch and his surrogate eye is mocked and loses some of its authority.[70] As Biograph's films of the Westinghouse works in East Pittsburgh (taken in 1904) clearly show, surveillance was commonly directed against the working class in factories. Such people, who provided the nickelodeons with a majority of their patrons, undoubtedly were amused to find someone like their boss and his delegated representative in such a predicament. As with The Terrible Kids , this suggests that films could be appropriated by working-class audiences in ways never anticipated by Porter and yet consistent with his own opposition to a regimented workplace. The humor touches on an important issue of American life without dealing with it directly as Porter did in The Kleptomaniac and The Ex-Convict .

Porter's use of intratextual redundancy was simple and effective; it allowed for the production of one-reel films without complex narratives. Similar films were made by other producers in considerable quantity. Many of these can still be seen, including Biograph's Mr. Butt-In (February 1906) and If You Had a Wife Like This (February 1907), Vitagraph's The Jailbird and How He Flew (July 1906) and Liquid Electricity (September 1907), Hepworth's The Fatal Sneeze (June 1907), Urban's Diabolo Nightmare (October 1907), Eclipse's A Short-Sighted Cyclist (1907), and Gaumont's Une Femme vraiment bien (1908).



Getting Evidence. The disguised detective takes a snapshot.

The titles of all films played an important naming function, either defining the central concept or suggesting the referent viewers needed to interpret the film even before the narrative began. Redundancy, one of the defining characteristics of "low" popular culture as opposed to "high" art[71] was essential to the narrative cinema of 1906-7, as it had been to the films Porter produced in earlier years.

Severe limitations were placed on other kinds of self-sufficient narratives in pre-1908 films. If a story was unfamiliar, how was the spectator to know if a succeeding shot was backwards or forwards in time? The temporal, spatial, and narrative relations between different characters and lines of action were often vague or, worse, confusing. Visual cues like repeated action were helpful, but not always possible. Occasionally the producer used intertitles, but this practice was not universally accepted and was rarely used at the Edison studio during 1906-7. One limited solution was to tell simple stories. This is what Porter did with Lost in the Alps (March 1907), a family-centered drama of twenty-four shots (see shot-by-shot breakdown on page 358).

The family unit established in the opening two shots is quickly threatened as the children wander through a snowstorm and succumb to the elements (shots 3-5). The worried parents are the focus of the next four shots and their rescue

(text continued on p. 359 )



Lost in the Alps, Shots 1, 2, 7, 19.


Shot 23.


Lost in the Alps: a shot-by-shot breakdown.

shot 1.

exterior of house (set)—mother sends son and daughter off right with lunch basket.

shot 2.

sheep's meadow—children come from deep left and give lunch to father, a shepherd.

shot 3.

children staggering home through woods—snow falling.

shot 4.

children struggling through snow—girl struggles off right carrying younger brother as snow falls.

shot 5.

children collapse.

shot 6.

mother working at home (interior, set)—she looks at clock, is very worried and goes outside.

shot 7.

exterior (same as shot 1)—mother comes outside, she goes off right and returns discouraged, then reenters house. After a brief moment, the father comes on right and enters the house.

shot 8.

interior of house (same as shot 6)—mother is waiting and husband enters; he hears the news and quickly leaves.

shot 9.

interior of monastery—father enters from right and explains the situation to monks, who go off and reenter with two Saint Bernard dogs.

shot 10.

dogs race through the snow.

shot 11.

dogs race through the snow.

shot 12.

dogs race through the snow.

shot 13.

dogs race through the snow.

shot 14.

dogs race through the snow.

shot 15.

dogs race through snowy countryside.

shot 16.

pan from stream to dogs going down path.

shot 17.

dogs race through snow, downhill, and across stream.

shot 18.

dogs race across snowy fields.

shot 19.

dogs race down steep slope.

shot 20.

dogs sniff where children were last shown collapsing (shot 5), but the children cannot be seen.

shot 21.

father and monks come down snowbank and are greeted by one Saint Bernard.

shot 22.

same location as shot 20, but children are now in the snow; monk and father enter frame, embrace children, and wrap them in blankets.

shot 23.

home, same set as shot 6—mother at home, father and men return with children, who are slowly revived.

shot 24.

emblematic shot of dog/hero.


efforts are continued by the Saint Bernards in shots 9-19. Only in the last two shots of the narrative (22-23) is the family reunited. The extent to which the mother's worrying, shown in shots 6 to 8 and 23, overlaps with the children's struggle in the snow is uncertain, but implicit to the story's construction. The repeated actions of mother and father leaving and entering their house in shots 6 to 8 clearly establish temporal relationships between these three scenes, however, while time is condensed within them. In shot 7, when the mother goes off-screen right and then quickly returns to the house, the spectator understands that she has searched for her children over a longer period of time than she is out of frame. Although the mother's return is followed immediately by that of her husband, considerably more time has presumably elapsed between these events. There is a major discrepancy between real time and screen time within a single shot; and the nature of this discrepancy must be determined by the viewer. It was a combination of representational strategies that Porter had used since Life of an American Fireman .

The narrative is, by later cinematic standards, radically distended as the Saint Bernards romp through the snow for eleven successive shots. For Porter, the scenic beauty of these scenes was paramount, and the narrative was pushed into the background. This emphasis on scenery is consistent with earlier Edison films like Rube and Mandy at Coney Island where the comedy was interrupted by scenic display. The limitations endemic to the construction of a story in Porter's representational system made these nondiegetic digressions all the more important. Slightly more than a year after Lost in the Alps was made, last-minute rescue films were to have a very different construction. Advanced filmmakers like Griffith would take similar material and intercut the children, parents, and dogs in a way that heightened the dramatic intensity of the film. The mother's worrying would have punctuated the rescue rather than appearing before and after it. Under such circumstances the scenic value of the snowy landscape would have become secondary to the suspense generated by the narrative.

Complex Narratives

Porter did periodically rely on complex, unfamiliar narratives. The frequency with which exhibitors facilitated their viewers' comprehension of these films through sound effects, a lecture, behind-the-screen dialogue, and/or informal comments during the screenings is impossible to determine with any accuracy. Although this assistance was offered in some circumstances, it was certainly not offered in all. Porter's most ambitious projects must therefore be looked at from this double perspective. On the one hand, some exhibitors intervened to make complex narratives more intelligible; on the other hand, the films were often exhibited without such assistance and were not readily understood by their audiences. This problem, which faced many filmmakers, was underscored by the Film Index :



Regardless of the fact that there are a number of good moving pictures brought out, it is true that there are some which, although photographically good, are poor because the manufacturer, being familiar with the picture and the plot, does not take into consideration that the film was not made for him but for the audience. A subject recently seen was very good photographically, and the plot also seemed to be good, but could not be understood by the audience.

If there were a number of headings on the film it would have made the story more tangible. The effect of the picture was that some people of the audience tired of following a picture which they did not understand, and left their seats. Although the picture which followed was fairly good, the people did not wait to see it.

Manufacturers should produce films which can be easily understood by the public. It is not sufficient that the makers understand the plot—the pictures are made for the public.[72]

With films such as Life of a Cowboy, Kathleen Mavourneen , and Daniel Boone , it is difficult to determine whether Porter and McCutcheon misjudged their audience's knowledge of these stories, wanted the films to be shown with a commentary, or failed to achieve the level of self-sufficient clarity they originally intended. Certainly the gap between the filmmakers' ambitions and what an audience might reasonably be expected to understand without an exhibitor's lecture is apparent either by contrasting a silent viewing of Life of a Cowboy (May 1906) to a reading of the Edison trade description or comparing this description to a review that appeared in Variety (see documents nos. 21 and 22). For all his praise, Variety's Sime Silverman viewed the first part of the film as a series of discrete incidents like Life of an American Policeman rather than as a unified narrative. While many of the individual situations were immediately recognizable from Wild West shows, the story that held these situations together was not easily discernible.



The opening scene shows the interior of the "Big Horn" saloon. A Mexican greaser is standing at the bar drinking. An old Indian enters and walks over to the bar. Upon being refused a drink he walks away and sits down on a box. The greaser now orders a drink and is about to hand it to the old Indian when an Indian girl who is evidently the old Indian's daughter rushes in and knocks the glass out of the greaser's hand. As the greaser is about to strike the girl a cowboy, who is the hero, appears on the scene, knocks the greaser down and kicks him out of the saloon.

An English tourist, with his valet, now enters. While they are looking round the saloon, a Salvation Army lass comes in and asks for a donation,

(Text box continued on next page)


but they pay no attention to her. At this moment several cowboys ride into the saloon and begin shooting, and compel the tourist and valet to give up their money and valuables to the girl. When the girl leaves they make the tourist and valet dance to the music of their revolvers and then make them buy drinks for the entire crowd. After a few parting shots, they ride out of the saloon.

The next scene is on a ranch. The ranchman's daughter comes out of the house, sees a stage coach, in which are the tourist, his wife and valet, also a young lady who becomes the heroine of the story coming up the road. A number of cowboys now dash down the road to meet the stage coach, and are welcomed in true Western style. The young lady and the cowboy hero are old friends. The greaser, who has been paying marked attention to the young lady, is roughly pushed aside by our hero, which adds to the bad blood already between them.

The next scene shows the ranch owner, with his family and guests, enjoying some cowboy sports. One of the sports is the lassoing of a woman while riding at full speed, and some other wonderful tricks with the lariat. The English tourist, who is present becomes greatly interested. Presently the lariat falls over his head, and he is dragged round the yard to the great amusement of everyone. A wrestling bout is also shown.

The next scene shows the stage coach leaving the ranch with the entire party. The greaser mounts his pony and rides after the stage. The occupants soon discover that they are being followed by the greaser and a band of Indians. The driver lashes his horses into a wild gallop. The Indians overtake the coach and ride alongside of the horses, and bring the stage to a stop and compel the passengers to get out. The stage driver is shot and falls off the coach. The greaser now seizes the young lady and places her on a horse, while the rest of the gang compel the rest of the passengers to run before them at the point of their guns.

The wounded stage driver is seen galloping up the road. He reaches the house and is met by our cowboy hero who catches him as he falls exhausted from his horse. The news soon spreads and a dozen cowboys are soon in hot pursuit after the greaser and his gang. After a terrific ride they overtake one of the Indians, who is shot and falls to the ground. Our cowboy hero rides along side of our heroine's horse while both horses are galloping at break neck speed. The Indians now scatter in all directions. The heroine quickly revives and congratulations follow.

The final scene shows the greaser creeping through the underbrush, and followed by the Indian girl who knocked the glass out of the greaser's hand in the opening scene. The two lovers are resting in a secluded spot. The greaser creeps closer and closer, raises his revolver, takes a steady aim, and is just about to press the trigger when a bullet from the Indian

(Text box continued on next page)


girl's pistol drops him in his tracks. The Indian girl now approaches the two lovers and shows her gratitude to our cowboy hero for his kindness to her and her old father.

SOURCE : Film Index , July 7, 1906, p. 9.


Edison Film

"Life of a Cowboy"

13 mins.


A long and interesting moving picture is "Life of a Cowboy" shown at Pastor's. It covers a wide range of subjects and the locale seems to be really the Western plains. The picture runs from a Western mining camp barroom to the arrival of a stage coach at the ranch with "tenderfeet" abroad, for whose delectation trick lariat throwing is introduced, followed by the holding up of the coach by Indians, the abduction of a young girl, the chase by the cowboys through pretty woods and rolling fields to the recapture of the girl, and the tragic finale where an Indian girl shoots a murderous bad man silently crawling up on the lover of the white girl. The series is so melodramatic in treatment that it acted on the audience like a vivid play.

SOURCE : Variety , January 19, 1907, p. 9.

The tension between narrative and spectacle in the opening scenes is not resolved. The story is frequently interrupted by the tricks and specialties of the hired rodeo group. Neither camera framing nor staging offers many clues to distinguish actions central to the narrative from inessential ones. The hero barely stands out from other cowboys. While the size of the figures was consistent with theatrical conventions, the absence of dialogue reduced the amount of information that could be communicated to the audience. As a result, the characters are difficult to identify even as stereotypes, and their actions lose significance. One essential aspect of Life of a Cowboy is the sudden shift to a chase format two-thirds of the way into the film. The first section lends itself to the showman's narration, whereas the second half, through the redundancy of the chase, achieves a level of clarity that makes this unnecessary. To the unaided spectator the film seems to discover its story partway through. Porter's ability to present a clear narrative is also burdened by the complexity of the story. An otherwise simple action triangle in which the cowboy hero and the "greaser" villain fight for the desired woman is burdened by an elaborate subplot involving themes of temperance and Indian gratitude.



Life of a Cowboy. Scene 1: the tourist is made to dance to six-guns. Final scene: the Indian 
maid kills the "greaser," who was about to shoot the cowboy hero and his lover.

One of the earliest film westerns, Life of a Cowboy owed much to the theater, and it was doubtlessly based on a play, which has so far eluded identification. Its production was encouraged by the general popularity of western subjects, particularly David Belasco's The Girl of the Golden West , which opened on November 14, 1905, at the New York Theater.[73] The play was still running when Porter shot his film on Staten Island, May 2-10, 1906. Like The Train Wreckers and The Great Train Robbery , proper society confronts the outcasts—in this case Indian bandits led by a Mexican. Unlike those two films with their outlaws and posses, this 1906 picture has a courageous and daring hero, who saves the girl and earns her love.

The cowboy hero, a pivotal figure reluctant to conform to the demands of civilized society, lives on the frontier, where civilization meets its opposite. Making the English tourist dance to the music of six-guns or dragging him around the yard recalls not only the dance scene in The Great Train Robbery but the antics of the terrible kids. The West is a place where time is told by the sun rather than the clock—a refuge like the romanticized memories of childhood where life has not yet been regimented.[74] Cowboys, not miners, are western heroes. The cowboy is impulsive, undisciplined, and not completely socialized. Thus his final acceptance of responsibility at the film's conclusion makes the story very satisfying for audiences who fantasize a release from the regimentation of daily life but still must accept it. Unlike the world of baseball, the frontier is not timeless but receding, disappearing. The presence of (white) women is a sign of its passing. The cowboy's romance turns him out of this unstable, idyllic world like Adam's bite from Eve's apple. The demise of the naughty boy films and the rise of the western occurred at the same time. The greater complexity of the western replaced the narrow, inter/intratextual redundancy of the bad boy genre while addressing similar feelings precipitated by social and economic changes in American life.


Kathleen Mavourneen (May and June 1906) and Daniel Boone also utilize complex story lines.[75] Both were adaptations of popular nineteenth-century stage melodramas not unlike The Miller's Daughter and its reworking of Hazel Kirke . All three plays served as staples for traveling repertory companies. In the process, they were freely adapted, often as a way to avoid copyright infringement. These theatrical reworkings also cultivated the creative aspirations of the troupe and, furthermore, attracted audiences already familiar with the basic story line but ready to be entertained by new variations on a familiar theme.

Kathleen Mavourneen is set in rural Ireland, where Kathleen's happiness is threatened by the unbridled ego of Captain Clearfield, the landlord villain who controls both the local judiciary and a band of robbers. Clearfield's lust for power, wealth, and sex is pitted against the villagers and their hero, Terence O'More, whose courageous actions save the village and Kathleen. It is only when the landlord is defeated that the villagers feel safe to dance and the couple can wed. Again family assumes a central position in Porter's story. Kathleen's childhood family is little more than a memory as the film begins: her father is old and in debt to Clearfield; her mother is dead. O'More not only rescues Kathleen from the villain but, through marriage, renews the family for another generation. While the family's future is threatened by Clearfield's megalomania, it is not capitalism or wealth that the story rejects so much as rapacity.

Kathleen Mavourneen suggests that power is in the wrong hands and must be reclaimed by the people, although the setting is in the past and on the other side of the Atlantic. The conflict and O'More's triumph occur at a distance, within a framework of bittersweet nostalgia for a life without such heroes, a life that many immigrant spectators had left behind. The film's resolution differs from the final equilibrium in The Ex-Convict , where the gap between rich and poor is bridged by the recognition of family. Since Clearfield has no comparable source of redemption, only his demise restores peace. The social structure, however, does not change. Here the problem is one of aberrant individualism and does not imply a fundamental critique of social relations. Rather it expresses a simple, Christian longing for human dignity and happiness.

Edison promotional material called it "the first and only Irish picture" and listed its cast to emphasize the film's ties to legitimate theater.[76] None of these were actors with whom Porter continued working, and it seems likely that he hired a theatrical company to make the film. At least some of the names are pseudonyms: Captain Clearfield was said to be played by H. L. Bascom, the name of the actor who originally played this role at the Boston Theater in 1867.[77] Much of Porter and McCutcheon's Irish melodrama was shot as if the audience could understand the absent dialogue exchanged between the various characters. Likewise the collaborators used conventional theatrical blocking in most of their scenes, notably in the opening, for which the expansive landscape was treated as a stage. With nine major characters in the film, audiences would



Kathleen Mavourneen. Terence O'More rescues Kathleen; returning to the village, the lovers pause
 as the church bells toll the Angelus.

have had difficulty sorting out the narrative unless they already knew the play and/or received assistance from missing intertitles or a lecture. The only easily understood sequence is the chase between the villagers and the soldiers (scenes 5-8). As in Life of a Cowboy , the chase relies on representational principles that differ from those used in other sections of the film.

One way to facilitate comprehension was with the exhibitor's judicious use of sound effects, as with scene 15:

Recently a film was seen in which a young couple were coming across a field. They stopped suddenly and stood with bowed heads for a few seconds, then proceeded on their way, much to the mystification of the audience. But when the same picture was shown at another theater, the mystery was solved; for a second before they stopped a church bell tolled as they seemed to hear it they stood with lowered heads. The realism was pretty and very touching—it made a hit and occasioned comment among the audience.[78]

But sound effects could not solve the problem of narrative clarity by themselves. Kathleen Mavourneen and other ambitious Edison projects challenge Nicholas Vardac's assertion that stage melodrama could be readily adapted to silent film because dialogue was an inessential part of the play.[79] The script for one widely disseminated version of the play is not only wordy, but speech provides crucial information and the story line. In this it is not unlike Hazel Kirke . This suggests that the absence of words was strongly felt by producers, exhibitors, and viewers and made comprehension of films much more difficult. Despite these drawbacks both Kathleen Mavourneen and Life of a Cowboy were commercial successes that spectators found attractive, even if somewhat obscure in their narratives.

The preceding analysis only touches on Porter and McCutcheon's full-scale reworking of the Kathleen Mavourneen; or St. Patrick's Eve story line.[80] In the


play, the landlord character is an aristocrat named Bernard Kavanagh, and Clearfield serves as his underling. In fact, most of the play—act 2 through act 5, scene 2—is actually Kathleen's dream. In act 1, Kavanagh's offer to marry Kathleen is immediately followed by a similar offer from Terence O'More, her childhood friend and lover. Kathleen is torn between becoming a lady or being true to herself. Uncertain which to choose, she falls asleep. In her nightmarish dream (which is not revealed to be a dream until the end of the play), she has married Kavanagh, who becomes bored with her ways and attempts to have her murdered. Terence intervenes and kills him—only to be caught and sent to the gallows. When she awakes, Kathleen knows what she must do. The play thus has much greater psychological subtlety than the film, which avoids the dream construction. The good-versus-evil conflict is in her mind and projected onto the characters. Kavanagh is not without ambiguity, but he is decent enough in "real life," even though he acts despicably in her dream. The play's suggestion of class solidarity is tempered, if not undercut, by strong "know your place" assumptions.

A more extensive comparison of play and film would scrutinize many potentially significant variations: Kavanagh and his sister are completely absent from the film; Clearfield and the lesser villains only exist in the play during Kathleen's dream; two new characters are added for the film (Danny Kelly and Dugan). Other minor characters are dropped, and one (Kitty O'Laverty) assumes an entirely different role. A crag in the play is replaced by a cave, and the film eliminates a scene providing comic relief. Porter concludes his adaptation with a marriage, whereas the play ends with the villagers dancing a jig—the second-to-last scene in the film. Familiarity with the play would have been of only limited help to spectators trying to follow the motion picture story.

The play Daniel Boone: On the Trail did not have nearly as wide currency as Hazel Kirke or Kathleen Mavourneen . Moreover, although many narrative elements and specific tricks were carried over to the Daniel Boone film, the adaptation involved substantive changes. In the "original," an archetypal villain cannot win Boone's daughter in marriage and so leads the Indians in an attack on the white settlers in hopes of realizing his ambition by force. Porter and McCutcheon completely deleted this character from the film, turning the good-versus-evil theme into one of civilization versus savages (although Boone is befriended by a "good" Indian maid). Another important character, a black slave used for comic relief, was also expunged. This was consistent with a more general pattern of adaptation: all three plays contain scenes and characters for comic relief that were subsequently eliminated in the films.

According to Van C. Lee, films such as Daniel Boone required an accompanying lecture to be understood:

Think of such subjects as A Trip Through Switzerland, Daniel Boone or even The Passion Play , being thrown on the screen with not one word of explanation. Might just


as well imagine that the public was invited to pay their nickels to see merely an "invention" via a machine that can throw upon a sheet pictures which can actually move with life motion, as certainly the majority would not, any further than that, understand what they see.[81]

Daniel Boone , nonetheless, was frequently shown without a lecture. Variety reviewed the film under such circumstances and noted, "There are interesting moments in the story of frontier Indian fighting but the clearness of the story is clouded by a mass of superfluous matter."[82] Although Porter and McCutcheon presented elaborate narratives that aspired to the sophistication of theatrical dramas, they remained dependent on the traditional lecture to explain what was happening on the screen.

Robert K. Bonine and the Production of Actualities: 1906-1907

Although fiction films were the Kinetograph Department's principal product, the Edison Manufacturing Company still continued to produce a significant number of actualities during 1906 and the first half of 1907. Here a simple division of labor was generally observed. Porter's filmmaking energies were directed almost exclusively to the production of acted "features," while Robert K. Bonine traveled around the country and to the new U.S. territorial possessions, where he took actuality subjects. His films were sold primarily to traveling motion picture exhibitors then taking refuge in the travelogue, old-time stereopticon lecturers finally incorporating films into their programs, and exchanges servicing vaudeville theaters retaining a residual interest in travel scenes and news topicals. Hale's Tours and similar shows also provided a significant market during 1906.

Shortly after the earthquake in San Francisco on April 18, 1906, Bonine went to the West Coast and filmed the remains of the destroyed city, including Panorama Russian and Nob Hill from an Automobile and Dynamiting Ruins and Rescuing Soldiers Caught in the Fallen Walls . Thirteen short subjects were put on sale, and film exchanges and exhibitors were informed that "any selection of subjects may be joined together. Every film is provided with an Edison announcement plainly describing each scene and greatly adding to the interest and value of each picture."[83] The earthquake's news value was such that Edison sold between twenty-two and sixty-eight copies of these films, in many cases to exchanges that rarely purchased news films.

After photographing the San Francisco devastation, the Edison cameraman traveled south and filmed Flora Fiesta, Los Angeles on May 22, 1906. The San Francisco disaster had created concern about dangerous earthquakes in Southern California and the week-long festival was designed to refurbish the city's image. A quarter of a million people reportedly attended the flower fete


"in perfect May weather, beneath an amorous sun, tempered by deliciously cool winds from the sunset sea." According to the Los Angeles Times , the 250,000 saw the most memorable sight of their lives, and "the day was, from every point, the greatest in the city's history."[84] Bonine was probably hired by local businessmen who wanted the parade filmed for promotional purposes. If so, their efforts were not notably successful, since Edison sold only three copies in the next nine months.

After completing his obligations in Los Angeles, Bonine returned to San Francisco, where he received an invitation for a Hawaiian film trip. On May 28th, he cabled the Hawaiian Promotion Committee that he would come.[85] Three days later he left for the islands, where he had earlier taken films for the Biograph Company. His original intention was to travel on to Japan, but Hawaii lured him into a protracted stay: he did not head back to the mainland until August 14th.[86] Cooperating with, and probably subsidized by, the islands' local railroad company and their promotional committee, he photographed a series of short films under the rubric Scenes and Incidents Hawaiian Islands . Subjects included Hawaiians Arriving to Attend a "Luau" or Native Feast ; Shearing Sheep, Humunla Ranch, Hawaii ; and Panoramic View of Waikiki Beach, Honolulu .[87] On his way back home, Bonine filmed in Yellowstone National Park during the late summer.[88] Sales for Bonine's Hawaiian subjects averaged ten to twelve copies over the next six months. A Trip Through the Yellowstone was offered as a 735-foot feature and sold twenty-one copies; some of these must have circulated among nickelodeons that were short on product and/or looking for respectable "educational" subjects that might appeal to middle-class patrons and local authorities. While individual scenes of Yellowstone were sold in 75- to 140-foot lengths, only one or two copies were generally purchased.

With Bonine away on his trip, Porter almost certainly was needed to take Scenes and Incidents, U.S. Military Academy, West Point and films of local sporting events such as The Vanderbilt Cup and Harvard-Yale Boat Race . These sold between three and eight copies. On July 31, 1906, he also filmed Auto Climbing Contest , which took place at Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. It was sponsored by the Bay State Automobile Association and photographed for Percival Waters at the request of the Keith organization. Alex T. Moore subsequently indicated that these subjects were acknowledged money losers and only made to please important customers.[89] Such films found their way into theaters on special occasions, but were ill suited to the rental system that had sprung up, since topicality limited the period over which an exchange could realistically expect to recoup its investment.

In March 1907, four months after President Roosevelt's trip to the Panama Canal, Bonine accompanied Alfred Patek, former managing editor of the Denver Times , and Frank Webster, another Denver newspaperman, to Panama, where he took films and slides of th